Some hedgehog-tastic dos and don’ts as Hedgehog Week ends

I posted some true and false graphics about hedgehogs earlier and promised a dos and don’ts post would follow. I then got completely distracted by the number of reviews on Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow followed by a takeaway and a night in front of the TV and forgot to do the second post. Oops!

So, a bit later than planned, here we go. We can all make a difference around our homes without spending much to help increase the hedgehog population and stop them being vulnerable to extinction…

Hope you find these helpful. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

Some hedgehog-tastic facts as Hedgehog Awareness Week ends

It’s the last day of Hedgehog Awareness Week or #hedgehogweek in the UK today and what a special week it has been!

There’ve been some fabulous videos and competitions over on the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s Facebook Page and readers have been in touch telling me about guest appearances from patrons/experts/rescue volunteers on a variety of TV programmes from their local news to The One Show to Good Morning Britain!

For me personally, this week has seen the released of the third instalment of the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – and I’ve been thrilled at the speed of the reviews coming in as readers join their old friends for more love, friendship, family, drama and, of course, hedgehog gorgeousness.

When the first book in the series came out, I pulled together some true or false statements about hedgehogs so I’m sharing these here again now for anyone who might have missed the original post or who’d like a refresher. I also have some dos and don’ts I’ll share later today.

Hope you enjoyed the hedgehog facts and that you perhaps learned something new.

Have a fabulous day and I’ll return later with some dos and don’ts.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

It’s publication day and I’m wondering if readers will like my unlikeable character

It’s publication day today for book 3 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – and I face the day with the usual blend of excitement, anticipation and also nerves! I’m sure all authors have the same questions whirring round their mind the day a book is released:

  • Where will it chart?
  • When will the first reviews come in?
  • Will readers like it?

When writing a series, there’s the added worry: Will readers like it as much as the last one? 

The bar has been set high for the series with the first two books being extremely well received. At the time of writing Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow has just over 1,700 reviews/ratings on Amazon with 94% at 4 and 5 star and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow has nearly 1,850 with 93% at 4 and 5 star. That’s a lot of pressure on Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow and, while readers love the main character Samantha Wishaw, they do not love her cousin, Chloe Turner.

And this book is partly Chloe’s story…

The first book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – was told purely from Samantha’s perspective. She’s one of the kindest women ever but she’s had a rough time and there are some family members who don’t treat her well but in whom she still tries to see the best. Readers get to know Samantha, discover how she comes to be the owner of Hedgehog Hollow, and follow her as she gets the hedgehog rescue centre up and running.

Book 2 – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – continues Samantha’s story with Hedgehog Hollow now open for business. Part of the book is told from her perspective but part of it is from boyfriend Josh’s perspective as we find out all about him and the challenging relationships he has with family members but for very different reasons to the challenges Samantha has.

This dual-perspective approach will continue across the series. Book 3 – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – adds Chloe’s perspective to Samantha’s. Chloe is Samantha’s cousin and she’s one of the family members who causes Samantha major problems. Readers don’t warm to her and it isn’t surprising as, right at the start of book 1, she marries Samantha’s ex-boyfriend. Eek! That’s going to hurt. I won’t give any spoilers about what else she does for those who might not yet have read the first book, but it’s not good and the overall feeling is that she’s spoilt and selfish and Samantha would be better off without Chloe in her life. 

It therefore may seem like a risk for me to have written a novel where I’m focusing on an unlikeable character but it’s not actually the first time I’ve done this. In the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, the second, third and fourth books (New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage) include a character called Clare O’Connell who comes across initially as spiky, cold and sarcastic. Coming Home to Seashell Cottage is Clare’s story and readers discover why she’s the way she is and there are so many reviews where the reader comments that they didn’t initially like Clare but, by the end of the book, she’s their favourite.

Could the same be said of Chloe?

What I’m hoping for here is that readers will finish Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow understanding Chloe better even if they still don’t like her. I’m sure there will be readers who find that they like her and even a few who can feel themselves starting to fall a little in love with her but I think the latter may be in the minority because of everything that’s gone on before.

What worries me is having some readers who didn’t like Chloe from the previous books (completely understandable) who still don’t like Chloe in this book and, instead of looking at the whole story, they will rate/review the book based on whether or not they’re in Chloe’s fan club.

Whether a reader likes a character or not can massively affect their review for a book. I’ve seen it so often for other authors – Great story but I didn’t like [name of character] – and they give it a 1 or 2-star rating because that character wouldn’t have been on their list of drinking buddies. Yet they’ve acknowledged the story was great. This seems very unfair but I can see the point if that character is the only main character or there’s a book where there are several characters and none of them are likeable. I read a book recently with five or six main characters and none of them were likeable and I have to admit I struggled with the book. I wasn’t rooting for any of them but I kept going believing they were going on a journey and, by the end, I would be cheering for them. It didn’t happen. And here’s why…

There’s a brilliant ‘how to’ book called Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. (There are also variations like Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies (also Snyder) and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (Jessica Brody)). The original book is about screenwriting but the lessons can be equally applied to writing a novel. Snyder states, “liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story” and this is where he gets the title from. He writes about how a movie could have a real badass detective or gangster as the lead character who is potentially not very likeable … BUT there is a scene early on where he saves a cat and this makes the viewer warm to him because we see his nice-guy side and find ourselves rooting for him. This makes me think of the John Wick series of films starring Keanu Reeves. John Wick is an assassin and kills lots of people in those films but we see how much he loved his wife and his dog and that makes us warm to him and root for him.

So can the reader root for Chloe?

Chloe is selfish and self-centred but she has plenty of ‘Save the Cat!’ moments. While she does offload baby Samuel onto Samantha the second she turns up at Hedgehog Hollow, there are many moments where we see how caring and protective she is towards him. She says and does things that upset people but she recognises this and struggles as she reflects on her own behaviour.  And, of course, Samantha keeps giving her chances and we find out why this is the case, again seeing the ‘Save the Cat!’ moments through Samantha’s reflections.

This book is also Samantha’s story and readers love her so it’s understandable they don’t want to see anyone hurt her or take advantage of her. I love it that readers may feel defensive towards her and outraged by Chloe’s initial behaviour. But Chloe’s treatment of her enables Samantha to develop further herself and it also has another positive outcome (but I won’t say what that is to avoid spoilers).

Even if readers still don’t like Chloe, I hope they’ll still enjoy the book because of their love for Samantha, Josh and, of course, the hedgehogs. Afterall, it is ultimately their story and Chloe is just the ‘featured guest’ this book if you like. 

Overall I hope that, whether readers finish the book disliking Chloe or waving a banner declaring #TeamChloe, they will understand her, appreciate the journey she goes on, and love Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow as much as the previous two. Fingers crossed!

If you’ve pre-ordered or purchase the book (in any format) at any point today or in the future, a huge thank you to you. Happy reading!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

I’ve reached the end of my indie era

When I secured a 3-book publishing deal with So Vain Books in September 2014, I was elated. Six months later, that contract extended to include a prequel novella. So exciting! My star was going to rise and my publishing dreams were going to come true.

Not really.

Two years later, my dreams were in tatters and my star was in a locked box at the bottom of the North Sea. With my publisher about to cease trading imminently, I secured my rights back and was back to square one. It was over and, with less than 2,500 sales across all four titles, it hadn’t quite been the success I’d hoped.

It had taken me one year and twenty-three rejections to get my publishing deal and another nine months to get my first book out there. Although trying to secure another publishing deal seemed the logical route, I couldn’t risk losing what little momentum I had by taking the time to try to do so. Besides, I didn’t have anything new written so I’d have been going out with the same trilogy and novella that So Vain Books had published and I wasn’t sure how well that would be received.

I hadn’t set the publishing world alight with my chart positions or sales volumes but I did have very good reviews. It seemed that hardly anyone discovered my books but those who did loved them. With that encouragement, my husband knocked together temporary covers and I re-issued the four books as an independent (indie) author in the autumn of 2016.

Indie publishing (or self-publishing) is not an easy route. It’s an amazing route to market for so many different circumstances – struggling to find a traditional publishing deal, not wanting a traditional deal, writing something niche, wanting control of decisions to name just a few reasons a writer might choose this route – but it is heaving with other indies. To stand out and achieve success, a lot of time and money needs to go into promotional activities and this can be a massive challenge if you’re not writing full-time and/or don’t have the money to invest. Both applied to me.

We knew the covers looked a bit ‘home-made’ because they’d been a rush-job to get my books back out there so I asked hubby to re-do them hoping fresh covers would have a positive impact. They didn’t.

I toyed with changing the titles but I knew that, like the covers, the problem was visibility. I didn’t have the know-how (or the money or the time) to get my books out there to a wider audience so the reality was that I could change everything about them and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

I had hoped that bringing new books out would gain momentum. I did have a flurry of success with my first two Christmas books in 2017 but the level of sales and the chart positions were still nothing to write home about and they dipped off in the spring.

I paid to go on blog tours which brought me some brilliant exposure and some new fans in the blogging community but didn’t translate into sales. I even won several Chill With A Book awards including book of the month several times, cover of the month and book of the year 2019 for Dreaming About Daran. But it still didn’t translate into sales.

In 2018, completely disillusioned by lack of sales but too swamped down with the day job to invest the time in improving things, I concluded that the indie route was not for me. Several author friends were enjoying great success as indies and it was inspiring to see them doing so well… but it hadn’t hit the mark for me and I was starting to question whether I was kidding myself that I could even write!

I decided to try for a publishing deal again with a new novel I’d written and the potential to open up conversations about taking on my backlist.

A typical fortnight of sales as an indie. Some months would be much worse

Securing a publishing deal with Boldwood Books in spring 2019 is the best thing that could ever have happened to me. I had nine books in my backlist at that point and Boldwood offered me a deal for four brand new books and five from my backlist (although that was really six titles as I’d written a sequel to the original novella and the two would be combined to make one full-length novel released through Boldwood).

This contract turned me into a hybrid author where I had a traditional publishing deal but I also had self-published titles available.

My debut with Boldwood was The Secret to Happiness – the book that secured me the publishing deal. It was released first followed by the re-issue of my original ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, re-edited and re-titled. Making Wishes at Bay View was the combined Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish. New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms replaced Searching for Steven. Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove was the new title for Getting Over Gary, and Dreaming About Daran became Coming Home to Seashell Cottage.

I later signed contract addendums for the final three books in my backlist which Boldwood have been steadily re-releasing over the past year with new titles (except Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes which kept the same title), new covers and a fresh edit. Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café became Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café and Bear With Me became All You Need Is Love.

None of the edits have fundamentally changed the stories; they’ve just updated aspects such as technology, removed extraneous detail and added in more emotion at times, and have generally resulted in a more polished manuscript and smoother story. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with my amazing editor, Nia Beynon, from whom I have learned so much. Her input has definitely improved my writing.

I am currently working on the edits for the very final book in my backlist to be re-released: the story formerly known as Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. At the weekend, I took the indie version of this book down from sale ready to get the new title, cover and blurb up for pre-order this week (watch this space for the reveal!)

Each time I unpublished one of the other titles in my backlist, I thought nothing of it but when I took Charlee down on Saturday, it felt like quite a poignant moment. As I watched the final of nine titles on my author dashboard (the behind the scenes place where indie authors upload their books, load blurbs and covers and keep a track of sales) turn to ‘unpublished’ it struck me that I wasn’t just unpublishing another title; I was saying goodbye to being an indie author. Even though I struggled to make sales, I was indie for 4.5 years. I’ve had lots of jobs that haven’t lasted that long! It is the end of an era and that feels a little strange.

Although I didn’t have a great start with my first publisher and being an indie was exceptionally tough, I learned so much through those experiences. I learned about the type of author I am, which parts of the publishing process I’m good at (and not so good at), and I’ve appreciated all the amazing things Boldwood have done for me all the more because I know what it means to feel so far away from anything resembling success as an author.

I will be forever grateful that the publishing world has evolved so much over the years that there is an indie route available and that, even those my sales were limited, I still had sales. People who weren’t friends or family members discovered my writing and some of those readers are still with me today although they now sit alongside an amazing group of new readers who’ve discovered my stories thanks to Boldwood.

Indie wasn’t for me but it did help make me the author I am today and I’m glad I experienced it. So, goodbye to being an indie. Will I ever try that route again? Who knows?! I’ve just submitted the first book on another twelve-book contract with Boldwood, releasing four books a year over the next three years. I’m due back the edits on that today, after which I’ll start writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series and I would hope that I continue to build a readership and write books that my readers and publisher love. But it’s good to know there’s still the indie route there if I didn’t get a third contract or if I wanted to write something different at some point in the future which didn’t fit in with Boldwood’s genres. Given the choice, traditional publishing is my preferred home but I think it helps when I have such a brilliant publisher and such a great relationship with them. I couldn’t imagine home being anywhere else.

Wishing you a fabulous week and thank you so very much for the part you’ve played in supporting my writing journey so far.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Welcome to the wonderful world of bears

It’s six days since All You Need Is Love was released and we’re halfway through the blog tour. I’ve had some absolutely gorgeous reviews and one of the things that makes me very happy is when reviewers mention the bears and how much they learned about them/how much they enjoyed that part of the story.

So today I thought I’d talk about being an arctophile and the wonderful world of teddy bears.

An arctophile is a lover/collector of teddy bears. It is derived from the Greek terms ‘árktos’ meaning bear and ‘philos’ meaning lover/friend. I am an arctophile.

I’ve loved teddy bears for most of my life but I would say I became especially fond of them at around the age of 14. Forever Friends were extremely popular back then and I remember gazing adoringly at them in card shops and wishing they could all be mine. I gradually built up a collection of what is known as ‘plush’ bears. These are typically mass-produced teddies, massively ranging in size and price, and made from synthetic materials. They are soft and designed for lots of hugs.

The photos below show a very small section of my plush collection. Top left are a trio of bears I used to sell in my bear shop and I couldn’t resist taking a set home. They are from the plush range made by German collectible teddy bear manufacturer Hermann Teddy Original and I christened them Caramel, Toffee and Fudge (L-R).

Across the bottom is my very well loved bear Sainsbury (unimaginatively named that because he was from Sainsbury’s), bought for me by my sister in law when I spent most of December 2006 in hospital with hypertension and mild pre-eclampsia before my daughter was born. You’ll likely recognise a Forever Friends bear in the middle. He was also from my shop. There was a range of them in four different colours – this light blue, a deeper sky blue, pink, peach – and I’d have loved to keep one of each but couldn’t justify it!

Bottom right is a Gund bear. I used to stock Gund in the shop and they really do make gorgeous plush bears. This particular one was given to me by my writing collective, The Write Romantics, when my debut book (called Searching for Steven at the time but now repackaged as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) secured a publishing deal. He’s wearing a badge that says ‘Steven Bear’ and his hoodie states ‘A 5* read the search is over’. Isn’t he gorgeous?

And finally in the plush range we have famous bears like Rupert, Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. I do have a gorgeous traditional Pooh Bear (also from my shop) but he’s on the top of the wardrobe at the back and I’d have to remove all the bears to take a picture of him and am far too lazy (and short) to do that! This Paddington was a Christmas gift before I had the shop but Aunt Lucy came from my shop and I used to sell Paddingtons of various sizes. A larger one than him made it into my collection too but I had to draw the line at the 4ft one I used to stock!

Bears featured on my wedding day. The wedding itself had a seaside theme but a Forever Friends bride and groom (from my shop, of course) sat on the top table. We had a Cherished Teddy wedding display for the top of the cake and my cousin bought us a Boyds bride and groom as a gift.

I was in my late twenties when I discovered the world of collectible teddy bears. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend at the time took me to a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it was a life-changing moment as I’d never have thought of running my own teddy bear shop if I hadn’t been introduced to them and I’d never have met my husband if I hadn’t opened the bear shop. And without the hubby, I don’t know if I’d have become an author.

Collectible teddy bears will give hugs but they’re not designed to be played with/cuddled in bed and the price tag confirms that! Even if you know nothing about teddy bears, you’ve probably heard of Steiff; the German manufacturer with the distinctive button in the ear identity tag. Vintage Steiff can sell for eyewatering amounts of money at auction but if there are any burglars reading this, I don’t own any of them so nothing to see here!

There are many other long-established manufacturers. Britain’s oldest are Dean’s and Merrythought and my very first bear was a limited edition Dean’s one called Scruff, purchased from that shop in Lincoln. Here he is posing with my books:

Isn’t he completely adorable? He’s made from mohair and is jointed. Most collectible bears are jointed – it’s where they stand out from plush ones – and most are made from mohair which varies massively in colour, texture and price.

When I first set up my shop – Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire – I stocked collectible bears from Dean’s, Merrythought, Hermann Teddy Original, Robin Rive (based in New Zealand) and Cambrian Bears but Steiff wouldn’t touch me. I was too small and they supplied to another bear shop in a nearby town. I was gutted because I lost sales constantly from people who knew nothing about bears but had heard of Steiff so wanted a Steiff for a newborn or for a christening and nothing else would do. In the main, they wouldn’t look at the other bears even though I personally (and perhaps controversially) have always thought that Steiff bears, although lovely, aren’t necessarily the bears with the most personality and appeal.

About a year into trading, Steiff reconsidered when the local shop closed and they allowed me to make a smaller order than they usually demanded (which was still a phenomenal outlay). It was worth it as Steiff were my biggest sellers.

Here’s a small selection of my collectible bears. The large photo is a bear called Daffy from the Isabelle Collection at Charlie Bears. Charlie Bears didn’t exist when I had Bear’s Pad but they later entered the market with a new take on bears – the look of collectible bears by making them jointed but affordability by creating them in different materials. The Isabelle Collection was an expansion into limited edition collectible bears.

Top right are two collectible bears and one artist one called Noah purchased in Belgium (I’ll explain what artist bears are in a moment). The one standing at the back is a Steiff which I called Growler because he growls when you tip him forwards and back. Steiff bears don’t usually have names, being identified instead by size and style. He was my second ever collectible bear I bought. The smaller one sitting down is a Robin Rive limited edition called Faith.

The bottom row starts with a very traditional-looking Hermann Teddy Original bear called Yesterday. The one in the middle with the hat is Robin Rive’s Nautical Neville. These two (and Faith mentioned earlier) were all from my shop. I used to love them all so much and would tell myself that if a particular favourite was still on the shelves after three months, they’d come home with me. I’d then panic when a customer seemed interested!

The Paddington at the bottom was my wedding gift from the hubby and is a Steiff one. I said earlier I don’t love Steiff as much as some of the other manufacturers but I absolutely adore this Paddington. He is divine. Look at his suitcase and marmalade sandwich!

So what are artist bears? These are collectible bears but they are made on a much smaller scale by a bear artist who typically creates an OOAK (one of a kind) or a very small number like three. It’s more likely to be an OOAK although the artist may take that pattern again but use different mohair or clothes to create a different look.

During publication week, somebody asked me how many bears I have so I did a very quick count. It’s about 140 consisting of plush, collectible and artist bears. I used to have a couple of hundred plush ones but there just isn’t the space. When I had my bear shop, I cleared about about 10 binbags of bears to charity (all were immaculate condition as they’d all been sat on shelves and not played with) and I’ve done several more clear-outs over the years which break my heart but needs must.

When I did my count, I was surprised to discover that I had nearly as many artist bears as big-name collectible ones. Initially I only bought collectible ones but I tend to only buy artist ones now. I love the uniqueness of them. I will only buy a bear that ‘speaks’ to me and, as I have a lot of traditional-looking ones in my collection now, I am more inclined to go for something a little bit quirky.

All the bears below are artist bears. The one in the dress is from Loeëtte Bears (from the Netherlands although I bought the bear from Mary Shortle in York) and the purple one is Tammy from J&P Mohair Bears which I bought in Stonegate Bears in York. Franklin (bottom middle) is also a J&P from Stonegate Bears.

The top right one is a Ju-Sea Bear called Mark Elvet. I made him! I learned how to make teddy bears when I had my shop and I sold my second and third in the shop but kept the first one for me as he was my first and therefore very special and I’d named him after my husband and the street where I learned to make bears. You may think Ju-Sea Bears sounds familiar. That’s because I used it for Julie’s bears in All You Need Is Love in the same way that I named her house Bear’s Pad after my shop. Little connections in my stories like that make me happy.

The small purple bear bottom left is from Diane Hanley who used to supply to my shop and bottom right is the most adorable bear dressed for a festival. I can’t tell you her name or make, though, as there was no tag on her. I contacted Mary Shortle in Leeds afterwards and they kindly supplied me with the information which I wrote down and put somewhere safe… You know what that means. Yep, no idea where I put it!

Although I say that Scruff was my first collectible bear, I did have one before that. I absolutely love the Lake District and we had many family holidays in the area when I was younger. My favourite shop in Bowness-on-Windermere was Lakeland Bears. I’d seen the postcards of hiking bears set in the countryside and this was the shop that stocked the actual bears.

I always dreamed of owning a Lakeland Bear and, one year, my parents surprised me by giving me one as a Christmas gift. I had no idea I was getting one so you can imagine my delight. He has his walking stick, his hiking boots and his backpack with a map of the Lakes in it! Isn’t he just fabulous? They even created a booklet of photos of him ‘exploring’ their house and garden which I still have… you’ve guessed it… somewhere safe!

Sadly the Lakeland Bears shop closed down many years ago but you can look at the gorgeous bears and the postcards on their website here. I’ve just had a lovely fifteen minutes procrastinating looking at the pictures and remembering which postcards I used to have.

We’ve looked at plush bears, collectible bears and, within that, artist bears. A devoted arctophile will probably have a lot of other bear-related items in their home too. I have stack of bear-themed stationery, books, pictures and jewellery. Here’s a few items from my collection.

The picture is our bear family and hangs in our downstairs toilet behind the loo itself which hubby doesn’t appreciate when he nips in for a pee as they’re watching him – hee hee! The salt and pepper set came from Canada on our honeymoon (so many amazing bear-themed treats over there), the teddy ornament is from a gift shop in Whitby and the large bear came from Hawes. The teddy bear cushion was a gift but I sold blankets in the same design in Bear’s Pad so I have a pair of cushions and a matching blanket.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little explore into the world of bears and that you’ve enjoyed the pictures. Teddy bears have an amazing ability to make us smile and feel uplifted. It’s rare for me to be in a bad mood and not much gets me down and I think that, in part, it’s because I’m surrounded by teddies all day. Who can feel down when looking at their adorable little faces?

When I had my shop, there were some nasty customers. And I mean nasty. One liked to come in and lecture me about how my business would fail because all businesses before me on that site had failed. She made me cry on several occasions. Another customer asked if I had a toilet her daughter could use. I did have a toilet but it was out the back past my safe and all my spare stock and I wasn’t insured to let the public back there so I had to direct customers to the public toilets which were a one-minute walk away so no hardship. It turned out the daughter was desperate and she wet herself all over my carpet tiles. The woman then told me it was my fault, flung down the items she’d planned to purchase and left me to clear it all up. She never returned so I never even made a sale out of that traumatic episode and, to this day, still feel really sorry for the little girl … but not the mum.

One busy Saturday, a really friendly man asked me to get down a large plush polar bear from the top of the shelving units and save it for him while he went to the cashpoint. When I returned to the till and finished serving a few customers, I realised my mobile phone had been stolen. The police told me two men were working together with a tactic of one distracting the owner by being interested and friendly while the other stole the money out of the till. Fortunately I’d locked my till and had the key on me so they didn’t get away with any money although the phone was bad enough.

There was a tanning salon opposite and customers used to send their fairly young children to “go and play in the bear shop” while they had a tan. Who does that? And the mornings where I’d arrive from work to find someone had vomited in my recessed entrance doorway were the worst ever.

I could write a book about all this. Hmm… there’s a thought!

But, even on those darkest days – and there were many more than I’ve listed above – I always felt so comforted being surrounded by such an enormous hug of bears (a ‘hug’ being the collective noun applied to a group of teddies). I’d have loved to keep my bear shop. Shame I needed customers to make it work!

So grab a bear today, give it a hug, and feel uplifted.

Big bear hugs
Jessica xx

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day feels a little strange this year because I’m used to being out and about and seeing the build-up in all the shops: pink, white and red flowers and hearts everywhere, flowers, chocolates and soft toys. But, like so many, I don’t leave the house these days and, even if I did, so many of the retailers are closed so the big build-up wouldn’t have been there. Just one of the many things about the past year that has been different.

Hubby and I don’t buy each other gifts and I’m not sure we’ve ever gone out for a Valentine’s Day meal but we always exchange cards … and he does often get me a little treat.

This year, hubby had to buy his own card from me from the local supermarket. I don’t know if he was planning to get me a gift but I emailed him a link of something I’d really like hee hee! The link was for a gorgeous soft Jellycat notepad. I’ve become a bit obsessed with Jellycat recently. My original publisher bought me a soft bear when my first book was published and I treated myself to a panda a couple of years ago but I’ve discovered they do a hedgehog and ocean creatures range and they look so good in promo pictures of my books that I have made a few purchases. It’s all strictly business, of course 😉


Anyway, back to the Valentine’s gift, hubby ordered me my Jellycat notepad but he also surprised me with the cutest, softest pair of otters cuddling. They’re actually hotties but I don’t think I could bring myself to put them in the microwave. I’d imagine them screaming!

I was really flattered a few weeks back to be asked by my contact at our local newspaper if I’d write an article entitled ‘Why I Love Valentine’s Day’. She figured that, as a romance author, I’d be well placed to put something together. Even better, it would be offered out to all the newspapers in the group – over 170 local newspapers. Wow!

Disappointingly and ironically my local newspaper didn’t print it. And neither did the other three most local ones to me. Eek! My contact said most of the papers in the group did take it which is fantastic news but I’ll need to be content with the pdf. If anyone spots it, please comment as I’d love to have a copy for my scrapbook. The media group is JPI Media (with coverage UK-wide) and the article could have appeared across the weekend or last week in a section branded with the ‘Your Time’ logo you can see top left below.

The big focus of the article is about love and friendship today whatever your relationship status. Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about being all loved up in a happy relationship; it can be about love for others, pets, yourself. Or books! I’m suffering with vertigo at the moment. It’s the first time I’ve had it but it’s been bugging me for a month now so I’m trying to relax this weekend and I’ll be spending this afternoon watching a romcom with my 14-year-old daughter while hubby watches the football. I also plan to finish the book I’m currently reading. Lovely way to spend Valentine’s Day. If a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows materialises at some point, I’ll be a very happy bear.

And I also got a very special Valentine’s Day gift from my lovely readers. A little over a week ago, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow went into Prime Reading and had a lovely boost up the charts but it didn’t look like it was going to break the Top 100. Yesterday it did and this morning it hit its highest position at #86 in the overall Kindle chart which is so exciting. It hit the same number back in August, about six weeks after release, so I’m hoping the hedgehogs might climb even higher. Go hedgehogs go! The first two books in the series – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – are both only 99p for ebook at the moment on Kindle, Apple and Kobo.

However you’re spending it, whether with loved ones or apart, I’m wishing you a restful Valentine’s Day full of love and friendship. Could you find it in the pages of a book? Could the love of your life be a fictional character? Here’s a couple of my fictional leading men to tempt you…

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Thinking of the book industry during a tough year

A memory came up on my Facebook feed from a year ago: an announcement from The Bookseller about Boldwood Books launching their traditional print programme with The Works. This was so exciting as it was an opportunity to see our paperbacks out in the world and every author who’d signed with Boldwood at the time was guaranteed at least one book going into this programme. Woo hoo!

But at the time of that announcement, as I celebrated the great news and looked forward to visiting my first book in The Works, none of us had no idea what was about to hit us. None of us had any idea how much our world was about to change.

The Secret to Happiness – my Boldwood debut book – was scheduled to go into The Works around Easter which would coincide with the start of the tourist season in Scarborough. I had visions of my local store quickly selling out of the book before I’d even seen it as locals and tourists recognised the Scarborough scene on the front cover. But my book didn’t go into The Works at Easter because we went into a national lockdown. Stores closed and we retreated indoors. The programme was on hold.

The Secret to Happiness went into The Works in June instead when restrictions were lifted and I was both delighted and surprised when they took another two of mine – Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – before stores closed once more in late 2020.

I felt a mix of emotions as that announcement from a year ago popped up on my feed today. So many amazing things have happened for me as an author during the past twelve months yet so many tragic, shocking and heartbreaking things have happened around the world, changing life as we know it both now and for the future.

Today I’m thinking of all book sellers in the UK and around the world whose doors are currently closed or who have been closed at points during 2020 and 2021. Some of them for good.

I’m thinking of all book sellers whether high street chains, small independents, market stalls or those for whom books are part of a bigger product offering. I’m thinking of how they lost their valuable Christmas season and how 2020 barely existed and 2021 hasn’t even started.

I’m thinking of the indies who don’t have an online presence or a way of operating a click and collect process so no way of making sales.

I’m thinking of all the owners of these businesses, particularly indies, and the staff they employ. 

I’m thinking of all the businesses connected with book retailing like printers and distributors who may have been furloughed/lost jobs/ceased trading. And perhaps less obvious connections like the arts. My husband is a freelance typesetter and everything he was working on was put on hold during the first lockdown. One of his clients produces plays. With theatres closed, there were no plays to typeset.

I’m thinking therefore of all the freelancers in the business whose work may have slowed down or dried up: typesetters, editors, cover designers and so on. There will be exceptions and some may have been busier than ever but not in our household.

I’m praying the industry is able to ride the storm and, despite the hardest year ever to face retailers, I’m hoping they’re back when some sort of normality returns. I’m hoping they all remain part of our ‘new normal’.

It’s been tough for authors too. At the ever-innovative Boldwood Books where all our books are available in a stack of formats with a big emphasis on the digital offering (ebook, audio or streamed), we’ve still been able to reach our readers. Authors with the bigger traditional publishers derive much (most?) of their income from the sales of hardbacks and paperbacks and have had to rely on sales through online retailers. With Amazon needing to prioritise warehouse space for ‘essentials’ like medical supplies, even that route became a challenge.

Last year, launches were pushed back with one crazy day in September where hundreds of new titles were released. Debut authors who might have waited years for this to happen may have been lost in the masses. Even successful authors might have experienced limited impact. Book signings, launches, festivals, fairs and conferences would normally generate income and provide an invaluable opportunity to meet and engage with existing readers and find new ones. And, of course, the organisers of these events and the venues where they’d have been held have also missed out.

Some of my fellow Boldwood authors didn’t get their opportunity to go into The Works, perhaps because they’d written a Christmas book and the shifting schedule would have made it out of season or simply because the moving schedule didn’t have the space to fit them in. And some authors had their books instore but couldn’t visit them because that would involve unnecessary travel. I was very fortunate that my local branch stocked all three of my books and I was able to visit them all. I also tried to get photos of other Boldwood Books like this fabulous romance collection in the Beverley branch of The Works last September when travel was permitted.

And finally my thoughts are with our amazing libraries and the passionate, book-loving knowledgeable staff who work for them, whether employed or as a volunteer. Such a valuable resource, libraries have struggled for many years for funding and support and this past year has provided new and unexpected challenges but it’s been amazing seeing how libraries around the country have worked hard to engage with users and bring them new content, even when the library doors have had to close.

Of course, the book industry isn’t the only industry to have had a tough year. Hospitality, travel and tourism, leisure, retailing as a whole, the creative arts … I could go on and on as I doubt there are many (if any) industries not touched by the pandemic and that’s before we even think about healthcare. But this is a post prompted by Boldwood’s The Works Programme announcement so the focus of the post is purely on the book industry.

Spring is approaching as is the one-year anniversary of the UK lockdown. Let’s hope year two is kinder.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

A pick-me-up playlist as part of Boldwood’s #BoldDailyThoughts

As we’re in the third lockdown in the UK and it’s all a bit scary and meh right now, Boldwood wanted to share some positivity through their #BoldDailyThoughts. Authors were asked if they’d be happy to contribute something positive to share with our readers. This could be anything such as a picture, a quote, a blog post, a video. When I’m feeling down, music is my ultimate pick-me-up so I’ve come up with a playlist of thirty songs that make me (and hopefully you) smile.

Over on Boldwood’s blog, I’ve talked about what music means to me and why I went for a playlist. You can find that post here.

Here’s a link to my playlist over on Spotify. If you’re not a subscriber, you can still register and access this playlist for free but there’ll be an advert every few songs. Subscribers can listen without adverts.

The reason I have this special extension post is that, when I pulled together the playlist, I found I wanted to explain what memories each song evoked in me and why each makes me happy. For thirty songs, that’s a pretty long explanation and too big for the usual length of our blog posts on Boldwood. But it might be of interest to some so here you go. Happy reading/listening!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Why have I chosen this playlist?

‘Reach’ by S Club 7

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t love this song from 2000. It’s so happy! Nuff said! Get on your feet and reach for those stars!

‘C’est La Vie’ by B*witched

Ah, the double-denim class Irish pop princesses. This was their debut single in 1998 and it’s full of crazy lyrics and melodic delights. If you’re of a certain age, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve attempted some Riverdance moves to the instrumental break in this track! I know I have

‘Waterloo’ by Abba

Anything by Abba transports me immediately to my childhood and it was a tough choice as there are so many uplifting songs I could have chosen. They’re the first band I loved and I’ve remained true to them ever since. I’m sure you’re already aware that ‘Waterloo’ was the winning song for Sweden in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. In the fabulous film Muriel’s Wedding, Muriel is desperately unhappy and escapes her troubled life by listening to Abba songs. When she leaves home and finally finds herself, she stops listening to Abba because her own life is “as good as an Abba song”. That speaks volumes to me. 

Abba also remind me of so many other fabulous points in my life with friends. Before heading off on our separate ways to university, my good friends Susan and Graham spent an evening at my house dancing to Abba songs. Cider may also have been consumed. Many years later, I took several holidays with another great friend, Catryn. In Turkey one year, we stumbled across a club at the hotel where an Abba tribute were playing. Nobody was dancing but how can you not dance to Abba and specifically how can you not enact the Knowing Me Knowing You video where Agnetha and Anni-Frid face in different directions? The tribute band absolutely loved it! Good times.

‘Be With You’ by Atomic Kitten

Sampling ‘Last Train to London’ by the fabulous ELO, this is such a feel-good track. Out in 2003, this is the year I moved back to the north where my family were based and opened my teddy bear shop. I remember having a night at my younger brother’s with my older brother and the three of us were listening to this and trying desperately to work out where the sample came from. That’s the last night I ever had with just my two brothers (Mike and Chris) and, as I haven’t seen them for over a year now, it feels right to have something that reminds me of them. Although my little brother Chris would probably want pointing out that he likes ELO but not so much Atomic Kitten; not quite his taste

‘Tragedy’ by Steps

I really agonised over which Steps track to pick before settling on this one from 1999. I know the words aren’t exactly uplifting but the dance moves are. The raising of the hands to the head? The shoulder wiggle? You’re doing it now, aren’t you? I couldn’t have been happier when Steps re-formed. One of my all-time favourite bands ever and a gig booked for later this year which might be about my fifth time seeing Steps live

‘The One and Only’ by Chesney Hawkes

This one-hit-wonder is one of my all-time favourite songs. It’s so uplifting. Does anyone else think of it as an 80s classic? It was actually released in March 1991 but I think the 80s vibe might be something to do with being penned by 80s legend Nik Kershaw (bit of pop trivia for you there). So many memories of being on the dance floor to this one at university and beyond. What a floor-filler!

‘Relight My Fire’ by Take That

With so many huge hits in the early 1990s, Take That were the soundtrack to my university days (1990-1994) and I was spoilt for choice but this 1993 collaboration with Lulu is simply fabulous and steps up to a new level when Lulu’s husky vocals kick in

‘Believe’ by Cher

It was the best-selling UK single of 1998 and I know it might have been absolutely played to death that year but I never got bored of this come-back single from Cher. Single and having recently bought my first house in Birmingham, it reminds me of a happy time in my life where I really believed (see what I did there?) that I could have it all in the future. As it happens, I had a few duff years before life finally came together

‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ by Bryan Adams

Ooh, I love Bryan Adams. I’ve seen him in concert four times and am seeing him again this summer (I hope!) So many amazing up-beat songs to choose from and ‘Summer of ‘69’ might be the most obvious but this one from 1991 has such a rousing chorus that I made a controversial choice. Plus, ‘Summer of ‘69’ is about looking back and regrets. This one isn’t

‘New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)’ by Bucks Fizz

Unless you’re a fan of Bucks Fizz – or The Fizz as Mike, Jay and Cheryl are collectively known now – you might not necessarily remember this one but it was a big hit back in the day (1986). It is such a rousing song. Listen to those drums and harmonies. Gorgeous. Best enjoyed really loud! Bucks Fizz were the very first band I ever saw in concert at Middlesbrough Town Hall for my thirteenth birthday. I’ve seen them a couple of times since and still love them. And, let’s face it, we’re all waiting for our new beginning right now!

‘Mustang Sally’ by The Commitments

You’re singing ‘Ride Sally ride’ aren’t you? You can’t not. I was just into my second year in at university when this film came out in late 1991. I’d never really heard soul music before. Absolutely loved the music and it’s a great film too

‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by The Communards

For the evening do on my wedding day, I wanted 80s music. The DJ was really young and, bless him, he didn’t have any and wasn’t even familiar with the 80s! Eek! So I had to take my CD collection in with a playlist. He absolutely loved it and the dance floor was crowded all night. He said it was the best wedding he’d ever done so I think it’s safe to say I’d converted him. I can picture everyone bouncing up and down to the chorus on this 1986 classic. Did you try to hit the long high note near the end? 

‘Real Gone Kid’ by Deacon Blue

Sticking with the 1980s here (1989) and another band who I absolutely adore who are amazing in concert. A Deacon Blue gig was the very first one I went to without my parents at Whitley Bay Ice-rink in Co Durham. They’re even better live than on their albums. You just have to jump up and down to the piano break in this and sing along to this chorus, arms in the air

‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO

Back to the 1970s now. I mentioned ELO earlier being samples on the Atomic Kitten track and now they have their own happy entry. This 1977 song has featured on loads of movie soundtracks and quite right too as it’s simply fabulous. How can you not feel uplifted when listening to this? I remember my dad playing this a lot when we were younger and, when I was on my year out from university, I bought myself ELO’s Greatest Hits and it really reminded me of home. I love Baby Groot dancing to it at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Brilliant!

‘Up’ by Olly Murs feat Demi Lovato

Jumping forward a whopping thirty-six years to 2013 here for my next choice. Another fabulously uplifting tune. I’ve seen Olly Murs twice at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre and will (hopefully) be seeing him again this summer. It goes without saying that we’ve missed friends and family this past year but who has missed live music and theatre too? Can’t wait to make up for lost time

‘Roar’ by Katy Perry

Sticking with 2013 here although this could easily have been ‘Firework’ as I think both these Katy Perry tracks about believing in yourself are so uplifting. I’ve settled for this one as I remember it being in my bootcamp era. I used to rise at 5.15am and go to a bootcamp on the Yorkshire coast with my sisters-in-law and this was out at that time. For about a year, it was a very special time in my life. Let’s hear you roar!

‘Love Machine’ by Girls Aloud

There’s a fabulous 60s-sounding vibe here with this fun 2004 release from the Pop Stars: The Rivals winners Girls Aloud. I’m no dancer but I cannot help doing a little shimmy to this one. I had my teddy bear shop between 2003-2005 and I often used to listen to this track. If the shop was empty, I *might* have been known to dance to it while dusting the shelves!

‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany

Another of my all-time favourites and back to the 1980s for this absolute corker from Tiffany. She was only fifteen when this was released in 1987. Did you know that 1987 was also the year Scott and Charlene (Kylie and Jason) married on Neighbours. What a cracking year! Doing the ‘Tiffany-dance’ used to be one of my party-tricks

‘Love Revolution’ by Will Young

Since I first saw him on Pop Idol, I’ve been a massive Will Young fan. I have all his albums and have seen him a couple of times in concert. This 2015 60s-vibe song just makes me want to clap along. Love it

‘Beautiful Stranger’ by Madonna

Oh behave! From the 1999 Austin Powers film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, this takes me back to my single days in my late-twenties living in Birmingham. I had such a busy social life then and a big circle of friends and have very fond memories of those times. I saw the Austin Powers films with my great friend, Catryn and we met another friend, Jackie, on a diving holiday in the late-90s and frequently quoted Austin Powers to each other (and still do on social media) 

‘Friday I’m In Love’ by The Cure

Another one from my university days, this is such a lovely song. In fact, so many of The Cure’s songs are gorgeously uplifting which might perhaps be surprising given the appearance of the band. Just shows that you should never judge on appearances. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to this 1992 song without your heart soaring with happiness

‘Stop Me From Falling’ by Kylie

So many Kylie songs I could have picked but I’ve gone for this lovely one from 2018 which describes one of my favourite romantic tropes in books/films: friends to lovers. This song makes me want to pop my cowboy boots on and do a bit of line-dancing

‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen

Queen are amazing. They have songs from such a variety of genres yet a completely distinctive sound. I don’t remember this back in the day (1979) but, over the years, this has become one of my favourite uplifting tracks. And can I just pause to mention how amazing Brian May is for all the work he does rescuing hedgehogs?

‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ by Starship

Sticking with the theme of nothing stopping us, the beat slows a bit here but the message remains just as uplifting. This 1987 track features on the soundtrack of the Kim Cattrall/Andrew McCarthy film Mannequin which was an absolute must-watch when I was at college

‘Somewhere in my Heart’ by Aztec Camera

More 80s music here and another of my all-time favourite tracks. I was at college when this was released in 1987 but it reminds me more of recent years out and about with my family on day trips. There’s a standing joke that I think I can sing all the words. I can’t. I also make a few up! Looking forward to days out again

‘ME!’ by Taylor Swift feat Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco

The most recent choice on my list, this 2019 song just makes me smile and even more if watched with the visually stunning video. Those outfits! Those colours! I love Taylor Swift and have been listening a lot to her fabulous more chilled Folklore and Evermore albums recently which are simply gorgeous but, for feeling alive, you can’t beat this one

‘Groove Is In The Heart’ by Deee-Lite

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this song. From the summer of 1990, it reminds me of finishing college and preparing to start university – friendships pausing and new friendships starting. I instantly think of my friends Susan and Graham whenever I hear this song and love that we may not live close but the positive side of social media has meant we’ve been able to keep our friendships going over the decades. This one’s for you two!

‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex

Possibly a bizarre choice but, oh my word, I LOVE this 1995 song! I’d graduated from university and was on a graduate trainee programme when this came out. I was in a house-share with another graduate with whom I’ve sadly lost touch but it brings back good memories of a great friendship

‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba

A couple of years after Cotton Eye Joe, this came out in the summer of 1997. It evokes a very specific memory of spontaneously going on a gorge-walking adventure weekend in Wales with a work colleague of mine. We ended up joining two stag dos and had such a laugh with them that we were invited to join them raft-building the following day. This song was constantly played on the radio that weekend and, every time I hear it, I’m instantly transported to Wales

‘The Logical Song’ by Scooter (radio edit)

Yes, I know, things are getting a bit weird now with a bit of early noughties electronica sampling Supertramp on helium which is why I’ve put this last on the list. Scooter makes me think of my big brother, Mike, who loves him. This 2002 song was a huge hit and just makes me smile, especially when Scooter spouts his random musings! I could just have easily selected ‘Posse’ which I also love. Hands in the air like you just don’t care!

Why I absolutely loved, loved, LOVED Bridgerton

I’ve been working flat out recently – evenings and weekends – working on the first round of edits for the third book in my Hedgehog Hollow series: Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. With them emailed to my editor on Sunday evening and the second round due back within a week, it didn’t make sense to get into my next book – only to have to dip out of it soon after – so I decided to take this week off to catch up on a combination of housework and admin. And perhaps a rare bit of relaxation.

Last night, conscious I was quite late to the party as friends have been raving about it for a while, I decided to try the first episode of Netflix’s new eight-strong series: Bridgerton. Four episodes later, I had to force myself to stop watching and go to bed. Today I caught up on the remaining four. Wow! What a series!

I do love a period drama but I dragged my heels on watching this one and nearly didn’t bother last night because I was disappointed with a couple of period films I’d watched over Christmas and was reluctant to invest my time in Bridgerton in case it left me with the same feeling of disappointment. It absolutely didn’t.

The two films in question were Emma and Little Women. Both really good films and I am sure that many will have loved them but I’m afraid I personally preferred previous adaptations of both. I love the 1994 version of Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Emma was always going to have tough boots to fill for me as the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor is one of my all-time favourite films.

I confess I haven’t read either of the books so I have no idea which version of the film is the closest representation of Austen’s/Alcott’s classics but the 90s films definitely did it for me.

It’s always hard, isn’t it, when there’s a remake of a film you love? I can’t think of any occasions where I’ve preferred the version I’ve seen second time around. Miracle on 34th Street is my all-time favourite Christmas film but it’s the 1994 version I love. I’ve never seen the 1947 original as I know I will be constantly comparing it, even though I know most who saw that first will probably say it’s the best.

Anyway, back to Bridgerton. Set in 1813 Regency England, why did I love it so much?

The Costumes

Oh my goodness, how simply divine were the costumes? Tiaras? Jewellery? Apparently a whopping 7,500 pieces were made for the series with the lead female character having a whopping 104 costume changes. Eek! And the make-up and hairstyles were fabulous too. Stunning. I loved how the two main families – Bridgerton and Featheringtons – had a colour palette. And the final ball is a visual delight of different shades of blue.

The Music

Set across one debutante season, Bridgerton is packed full of balls so there’s lots of music courtesy of string quartets. As I listened, I thought, ‘I recognise this song!’ and I don’t mean familiarity with a classical piece. You see, the music is contemporary but played by a string quartet in the regency style. I specifically recognised ‘In My Blood’ by Shawn Mendes (the munchkin is a huge fan of his so I know that song well) and ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift (although I confess to only confirming that one after I Googled it as I didn’t quite get there and it was bugging me!) I loved this contemporary edge on a period piece.

The Settings

As with any period drama involving society, there are some sumptuous properties. Much of the series was filmed in London and Bath but there were various settings used around the country and I was particularly thrilled to spot that The Duke of Hastings’s fictional home was Castle Howard. Deep in the countryside off the A64 between Scarborough and York, I love Castle Howard. I visited it with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, in Christmas 2019 where the decorations were masquerade-themed. We’d have returned in 2020 if we could but hopefully will be able to return in 2021. I’ve put a few pics below although the sunny one was not from Christmas 2019!

Incidentally, Castle Howard makes an appearance in one of my books – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – under the guise of Denbury Castle where protagonist Sarah has a hot air balloon flight.

The Story

But my absolute favourite part was the story itself. It was fast-paced, gripping, full of intriguing characters. It was about love, family and friendships and all the challenges that come with that. It explored how relationships change as character circumstances change. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry. In short, it was everything a good book should be and these are the elements I endeavour to include in all my stories as they are what excite me.

Ultimately, this was a beautiful love story about someone whose past has left them damaged and how they find their way through that. Again, a bit of a theme for my own writing.

I loved the idea that the narrator, voiced by Julie Andrews, is the person who pens the society gossip pages – Lady Whistledown – whose identity is a mystery but whose narrative certainly causes a few problems for everyone. This added a level of intrigue throughout the series which was fun. I made several wrong guesses in the first couple of episodes before guessing correctly. Not that guessing spoilt my enjoyment of the rest as I did change my mind a couple of times after that before the final reveal!

I adored all the comments about the place of women and could feel the frustration of the characters who wanted more from their lives than what society expected of them. I felt invested in them all and hoped they’d manage to achieve their dreams in the future.

And I love that this beautiful story has not been out of the Top 10 on Netflix since its release on Christmas Day proving that romance stories are alive and loved. As they should be!

I don’t want to say too much more as I don’t want to give any spoilers but I’m delighted to see the author of the books – Julia Quinn – riding high in the Amazon and Apple charts (screen shot from Apple as there were more of her books together at the time of writing).

I’d love to read the books and I can’t wait for season 2 of the series (had been planned but filming coudln’t go ahead due to the pandemic). Netflix haven’t confirmed a second season but, after the success of this one, surely there’s no question that they will.

Congratulations to Julia Quinn, Netflix, and absolutely everyone involved in this production. My faith in period dramas has been restored.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think? Had you perhaps read the books first? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Christmas was different but hubby excelled himself

How was Christmas? Quieter than usual? Virtual hugs rather than face to face ones? Perhaps you were planning to go away and couldn’t. Or maybe it was your first Christmas without a loved one or a family pet. Sending love if it was.

It was our first Christmas without our beloved cat, Felix, who we lost in January. His absence was certainly felt over Christmas dinner when he’d normally have been up on his hind legs against my chair demanding turkey. I’ve rounded up a few pictures of him at previous Christmases. He wasn’t impressed with his Christmas hat and ended up wearing it as a beard! He loved to lie under the tree or with the Christmas bears. Bottom right is hunting out Christmas dinner with his sister and partner-in-crime, Pixie, who crossed the rainbow bridge several years earlier.

Aside from a Felix-shaped hole, our actual Christmas Day was no different (other than being the first year the munchkin didn’t believe in Santa – sob!) as it’s usually just the three of us first thing then a visit from hubby’s parents who live in the next village either from lunchtime (they’d normally rotate round their three children) or from late afternoon. This year, they were in our Christmas bubble, joined us for a lunchtime Christmas dinner and stayed into the evening.

What was significantly different for us this year was not seeing anyone else either side of the big day. We would normally see hubby’s sisters at some point around New Year – often a full family get together at one of their houses where the munchkin loves to see her four big boy cousins (all in their mid-late twenties now) – but we can’t do that. And we’d normally see my side of the family twice and we couldn’t do that either. They’re not too far away but they aren’t local like hubby’s family.

I have two brothers and they’re both married with two girls each so we’d typically drive across to the nearest town to my parents about a week before Christmas and the men would go on a pub crawl while my mum, my sisters-in-law and the five girls (this year aged 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) would have a lovely lunch then a wander round the shops. The second get together would be between Christmas and New Year (would have been Sunday just gone this year) where we all meet up at my parents’ house for gift exchanges and food.

As we couldn’t meet in person, we planned a family Zoom on Sunday instead. Only it didn’t work. None of us could dial into the meeting my younger brother had set up so he sent a new invite and, for some strange reason, my parents and two brothers could get in but we couldn’t. We tried everything including the usual switching off and on again but to no avail.

Christmas shopping was very different this year. I’d normally explore the high street and local shops in my hometown of Scarborough and also have a trip to York to visit the Christmas market and the lovely independent shops there but, like so many others, we had to mostly shop online.

Hubby is exceptionally hard to buy for. There’s never anything he wants so I usually end up getting him socks (yawn), a chocolate orange (yummy but dull) and a couple of photography books including Landscape Photographer of the Year (inspiring for him but not very inspired seeing as he gets it every year). We usually agree that we’ll go away for a weekend as a gift instead but that’s not something any of us can plan right now.

When I was ordering things for the munchkin, I added in a few bits I might like and passed them to him to wrap, although this is something I’ve done for several years now as he claims I’m hard to buy for when there are so many things I love: jewellery, books, hedgehogs, bears, owls, stationery, lighthouses, chocolate etc. etc. etc. However, he surpassed himself this year. He visited NotOnTheHighStreet and Etsy and bought me some really fabulous gifts. The boy done well!

Hedgehogs might have been a bit of a theme! I got a gorgeous pin brooch which I’ll add to my bag or purse, a small plush hog for my desk, some socks, a fab T-shirt and a diary.

I also got 3 new charms for my Troll Beads bracelet. A friend started the collection at the launch party of my debut novel with a leather bracelet and a book charm. I’ve since upgraded to a silver bracelet and bought a charm for each part of my writing journey and to represent each of my books.

I’d previously acquired suitable charms for all my books except the Hedgehog Hollow series and, although Troll Beads did have a hedgehog charm at one point, it had been discontinued in something like 2002 so I’d given up on ever having one unless they issued a new design.

I ordered myself a starfish charm (relevant to my 2021 Christmas book) and a lighthouse one (relevant to several of my stories and possibly a future book and acquired just in time as it has been discontinued too) but he came up trumps by finding a hedgehog charm. It’s not a Troll Bead but it does fit my bracelet perfectly.

One of the promises I made to myself and my family when I started writing full-time was that I’d finally get a work:life balance. Trying to fit writing around a full-time demanding day job made that impossible. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned, though. It has been difficult to break the habit of working evenings and weekends after doing this for well over a decade, particularly in a year when going out and about isn’t practical so I might as well stay at my desk and work.

I also feel guilty when I’m not working which is ridiculous but I know I’m not the only author who feels that way. We can put such immense pressure on ourselves sometimes.

Anyway, one of the things I want to get back into is drawing. It’s not a great talent of mine and I definitely can’t draw from imagination – absolutely need to copy something – but I quite enjoy it and I’d like to give it a go again. I used to enjoy drawing but haven’t actually picked up my sketch pad since I started college in 1988! So I choose some art paper, charcoal and chalk pencils and pastel pencils myself but hubby surprised me with a gorgeous lighthouse cross stitch kit; cross stitch being something I used to love doing before I had the munchkin. I also treated myself to a hedgehog one earlier in the year so I’m going to be busy! Just need to make some time to do it.

Another gift I chose for myself was a miniature Charlie Bear. Our local garden centre stocks them and the munchkin and I visited their fabulous Christmas display after school one day in early December (when it was pretty much empty). I always look at the Charlie Bear display. I have a few large Charlie Bears but I prefer the limited edition collectible ones. On the display were what looked like classic books with miniature bears sat on them. Each book was hollowed out and the bear stored inside.

This is the ‘Plush Hug Book Collection’ and I’ve since learned that they came out in 2019 and there are six in the collection. The garden centre had three on display. All the bears were gorgeous so it was a case of selecting the most appropriate book as the words on each were different. The green one featuring the panda is a ‘Guide to Snuggleability’ – awww – but what absolutely sold it to me was the caption on the back: All the best bears read books. Could there be a more perfect choice for an author who’s also an arctophile (collector/lover of teddy bears) with a book in her collection set partly in a teddy bear shop?

I’d chosen a heart-shaped necklace myself from one of my favourite shops in Scarborough – White Beach Designs – and a heart-shaped beaded clutch in the Accessorise sale that I plan to use the next time I can go to an RNA event (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but hubby surprised me with this gorgeous keyring. Aww. Isn’t he just the best? We met in July 2003 when I was 31 and he was 33. “If I had my life to live over again, I would find you sooner so that I could love you longer”

Another surprise gift was ‘baby Yoda’ aka ‘The Child’ aka – look away if you haven’t seen the most recent episodes of Season 2 of The Mandalorian where his true name is revealed – Grogu. He’s a plush version and he is absolutely adorable. I just need a Baby Groot now and my life will be complete!

And my final amazingly thoughtful surprise gift was this gorgeous scrapbook for my newspaper clippings. Isn’t it just divine in it’s purple-ness; my favourite colour?

So the hubby definitely did well and I have been thoroughly spoilt this year with some amazing gifts from him and the munchkin. Feeling a bit embarrassed about the socks and chocolate orange now! 😉

How was Christmas for you? Hope it went okay.

Big hugs
Jessica xx