The one where I took a big step in building the tomorrow I’ve always dreamed of

Boldwood Books posted this meme on their Facebook site yesterday and it could not have been more appropriate for me because, yesterday, I grabbed my opportunity to build the tomorrow I want. Yesterday, I resigned from my day job!

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I’ve always needed to fit writing around a full-time day job which has not been easy. Over the years, I’ve held some very demanding roles where I’ve barely written because extremely long hours and/or business travel has prevented it. And it didn’t really matter at first because, when I was writing my debut novel, it felt a more like a hobby. Could I learn how to write a book? Could I get to the end? Would it be readable? I never actually thought beyond that but, once I’d joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and received positive feedback from readers on the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), I began to imagine that there could be something beyond a finished manuscript loitering on my computer.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay 

And there was.

Five years ago, I became a home-based HR Tutor.

Five years ago, my first book was published.

Five years ago, it was no longer a hobby.

Five years ago, I dreamed that I would one day be able to write full-time.

And five years later, it’s happening. Or at least it will be when I’ve served my four weeks’ notice.

And then I’m going to lie on a chaise while a scantily-clad Adonis drops grapes into my mouth while dictating my amazing new novels to a harassed secretary. Oh, wait, have I stolen a Little Britain sketch there?

What I’ll actually be doing is writing but I’ll be able to do it every day. And I’ll be able to do it during the day instead of late on evenings or across weekends like I’ve had to since I started writing. Which means I may actually have some time to spend with my immediate (household) family, extended family (post lockdown) and actually find time to exercise the lard off my rather enormous writer’s bottom!

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

I am so very grateful to the brilliant Boldwood Books and particularly my editor, Nia. Without my publishing deal with them, my dream would have remained just a dream. Their passion and enthusiasm has taken me from ticking over in the charts with a small number of sales each week to being an international bestseller who has sold 30,000 books (eBook, paperback or audio) through them since my first release in September last year. Wow!

I can’t help but smile at the words ‘international bestseller’ because, in my mind, that conjures up the likes of J K Rowling, Dan Brown, Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Stephen King (picking from a mix of genres here). It’s not me! However, you are officially classed as a ‘bestseller’ if you get into the Top 100 on the Amazon charts and I’ve managed that:

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 02.20.52The Secret to Happiness – #9 in Canada

The Secret to Happiness – #20 in Australia

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – #20 in the UK

Eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!!

Leaving my day job is scary. I’m walking away from a decent monthly income. I’m leaving behind a career choice I made when I was eighteen (a loooong time ago!) My income from writing will be a small fraction of what I earn normally but that drop in income will be worth it for the joy of being able to spend time every day ‘making stuff up’ and finally getting a work:life balance.

To anyone with a dream like mine, keep holding onto it. It might not come to fruition quickly or easily. I’ve certainly had my fair share of rejection, disappointment, self-doubt, and more disappointment along the way. About eighteen months ago, I felt so down about things that I even wondered whether to give up completely. But I couldn’t not write. It’s part of who I am and I’d be lost without it. So I took a deep breath, tried not to cry too much about the many days with zero sales and the low chart positions despite the great reviews and keep believing that, one day, it would happen to me.

And it has.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Roll on Friday 5th June – my very last day. Each webinar run, each assignment marked, and each query answered will take me a step closer to living my dream.

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and believed in me along the way, especially my amazing husband, Mark, and our daughter, Ashleigh, who have always accepted that I have two full-time jobs and not a lot of time.

Thanks to my mum – my biggest supporter who tells everyone she meets about her daughter, the author.

Thanks to all those who have ever beta read my work (in alphabetical order) – Clare, Liz, Debbie, Jo, Mum, Nicola, Sharon, Sue and Susan with an extra huge shout-out to Sharon who has been my shoulder to cry on, my champion and an inspiration. Can’t wait to meet up and eat (lots of) cake when we’re through the other side. Yes, I know that defeats the bottom-reducing plan but needs must!

And, of course, a huge thanks to so many amazing bloggers and readers, some of whom have been around since the start, through my indie years, and are still with me now and others who’ve just recently discovered my work and have been so lovely and supportive.

Every single one of you have made my dream come true and I can’t thank you enough.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

If you want to read my uplifting stories of love and friendship set on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast, or find out more:

My books are available on Amazon, AppleBooks, Kobo in eBook, paperback and audio formats. You can find my Amazon page here.

You can find my Boldwood Books on Audible here.

You can sign up to my newsletter here.

 

The one where I decided to ignore my lockdown birthday

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It was my birthday on Friday – 1st May – and I decided to ignore it this year because of lockdown which was perhaps an odd decision because I’m not struggling with our current scenario. Not really. Okay, I am, but perhaps in a different way to most. For us, not a lot has changed. I’m used to working from home because I’ve been doing it for five years. I’m used to hubby always being around because he works from home too. I’m used to not seeing my family because they’re not local and I’m used to not seeing friends regularly because they’re not local either. I’m also used to working long hours and barely leaving the house. But the hours I’ve worked so far during lockdown have been unprecedented and this is what led to my decision to say to my husband and daughter, ‘No presents, please. Let’s do this later instead’.

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My daughter made this for me on the iPad. Gorgeous

I’ve always struggled to find a decent balance between my day job as a distance learning tutor and writing, with the latter always having to take the back seat. During lockdown, the number of assignments and queries coming through has almost doubled as students have decided to use the time to study after being furloughed, losing jobs, or still working but not being able to go out on evenings and weekends. And it’s broken me. I’ve marked one assignment and four have arrived. I’ve marked another one and another three have appeared. It’s been a constant battle to keep on top of my queue. I’ve been mentally drained, unable to sleep, and I’ve barely stepped outside the house, even into the back garden.

In that state of heightened stress, the thought of celebrating my birthday when I couldn’t actually celebrate it properly was a step too far so I declared that I wanted to ignore it. We couldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day either or hubby’s 50th birthday properly (happened days before lockdown, scuppering plans to go away) so we’ll celebrate them all when we’re through the other side instead. Or next year.

IMG_7292There was cake, though. Cake is good. Given that my new book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow –  available for pre-order now, is all about a hedgehog rescue centre, hubby had hoped to get me a hedgehog cake from the supermarket like this one he bought for his mum’s birthday last year. Unfortunately they’d had a run on celebration cakes and there was very little choice so we had a Thorntons one instead (pictured at the top of this post). Very nice it was too. All gone now. Nom nom.

Wishing all the best to those who’ve missed celebrations due to lockdown so far and to those who’ll miss them going forwards. Good excuse to do it all when we’re though the other side.

And I’m sure anyone who has lost a loved one to this horrible virus or who knows someone fighting it right now would happily trade the rest of their birthday celebrations to have their loved ones safely with them. I know I would. My thoughts are with you.

Stay home, stay safe.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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The one where I think about the kindness and cruelty of strangers

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Image by Linus Schütz from Pixabay

How are you holding up? Do you ever have to remind yourself that this really is happening and not just a strange dream from eating too much cheese?

In the UK, we’re entering month 2 of lockdown. For those who work, it’s business as usual for some, immense additional volume and/or pressure for others, and there are those who find themselves furloughed or redundant and perhaps at a loose end. And many of those are turning to books.

In life before pandemic (concentrate hard and you’ll remember it), different people read at different times: before bedtime, on a commute to work, during breaks, all day (if they’re able) or perhaps only when on holiday.  Before pandemic, people read for different reasons: to learn, to be challenged, to switch off, to escape. In our reality now, the latter two have never been more important.

In a survey conducted by The Reading Agency, the people responsible for World Book Night, it was revealed that over 31% of people were reading more since lockdown began. They reported a 35% week-on-week boost for paperback fiction yet a drop of 13% in adult non-fiction sales. Bookstores with an online presence are reporting phenomenal increases in online sales (Waterstones, for example, reporting a 400% week-on-week increase) and the rise in new readers in digital format has been unprecedented.

This isn’t really surprising. In a world where we are staying home to stay safe, entertainment is needed, particularly for those who aren’t working, and books are an obvious place to turn, providing hours and hours of entertainment for a small financial outlay, or even for free. I’m not surprised that it’s fiction that has seen the surge either, based on that need to switch-off and escape.

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Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

I write uplifting stories of love and friendship and, via my chart positions in AppleBooks and Amazon, I have seen a surge in readers escaping to the world of Whitsborough Bay. My amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have massively raised my profile as an author through some wonderful recent promotions on Apple, Amazon and Kobo. The coincidental timing of these with lockdown has seen readers binge-reading the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series and then turning to my other books to continue their fix. I’ve received messages on Facebook, Twitter and by email from readers thanking me for writing these books which have lifted them and given them a much-needed escape during difficult times. I feel so humbled to think that my words – written in a time when a worldwide pandemic was the domain of a Stephen King novel rather than reality – have given someone a much-needed hug.

I have been quite astonished by the reaction. By the kind words from strangers. By the virtual hugs I’ve received to thank me for the hug my book gave them. I wanted to share some of them here, received recently on Twitter and Facebook:

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There are many gorgeous reviews on Amazon and Apple too for which I am so appreciative. The kindness of strangers has been touching, heartwarming and, as I say, humbling.

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I come from the school of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything”. However, as an HR Professional specialising in recruitment, coaching, learning & development, I know this is an ideal and not necessarily practical. In my current role as a tutor, I constantly need to give feedback about the assignments I’ve marked and I can’t say “that was amazing” when it clearly wasn’t and hasn’t met a single one of the criteria needed to pass. However, there’s a massive difference between writing something like “this is dire and clearly you will never secure an HR role” and writing “xxx was a good start but you may have misinterpreted the next point and what I’m looking for is xxxx” The difference is constructive feedback; feedback that doesn’t destroy the student and from which they can learn.

Which brings me to the other point of the title of this blog post: the cruelty of strangers. Oh my goodness, some people can be nasty. I’ve seen some reviews of books that can only be described as vicious and it makes me wonder whether the person writing them even pauses to think that there’s a human being at whom they’re directing their venom.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I have been really lucky with most of my reviews. I confess that I do like a spreadsheet and I will admit to being a geek in keeping a reviews one for Amazon, which tells me that, at the time of writing this post, I have 518 reviews across my nine titles combined and 500 of those (96.5%) are at 5- or 4-star (416/84 respectively). Thirteen (2.5%) are at 3-star, 3 at 2-star and only 2 at 1-star (1% combined). I’m thrilled with this and it does help me think, in my insecure moments, that I might not be too shabby at this making up stories lark. But some of my lower ratings are a little cruel.

I must start with my all-time favourite insult for The Secret to Happiness. “Absolute pish” apparently. If I remember correctly, this reviewer also reviewed a book from a very big name writer and a charger for their car, all of which got the 1-star treatment. Obviously a tough customer to please. On first reading this, I’ll admit that my heart slipped down my body, ran out the office screaming and hurled itself down the stairs. And then I thought of them sitting there, so livid about their car charger and my book that they had to have such a rant yet they haven’t reviewed anything else. Nothing from Amazon has brought them 3-, 4- or even 5-star rating joy. I began to feel sorry for them. And I reminded myself that 55 x 5-star reviewers disagreed, although I can’t comment on what those lovely people might have said about the car charger 😉

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Then there was this very unfair one for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. The blurb said it has previously been released as a different title and it’s been all over social media. All the person needed to do was return it for their money back for a purchase made in error:

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Also in New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, a reader took a strong dislike to my protagonist, Sarah. Yes, Sarah makes some questionable decisions but she learns from them. It’s known in writing as a character arc 🙂 Sarah is actually predominantly modelled on me and the book is inspired by a true-life story about me. That’s me told, then!

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I have a scathing review on Goodreads for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. It’s not scathing because the person didn’t enjoy the book but because I hadn’t released it in the format of their choosing. Ouch! Okay, I admit it, the rise of eBooks as the chosen (and sometimes only) format for indie and trad-publisher releases is all my fault. I’ll take one for the team on that!

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Another reader didn’t like me having cancer in my books and went to pains to point out that there are other ways that people die and listed them. The book on which she placed this review had somebody who was in remission from cancer and, across all my books, I have many other forms of death where a death is required for the plot line. Another gave me a low review because she prefers erotica and my book was a bit tame. Had she looked at my covers and read my blurbs? I have no idea what about them would possibly suggest they could appeal to someone who only reads erotica!

But I have to save my ‘favourite’ review till the end. This is actually a 3-star review for the final part in the series, Coming Home to Seashell Cottage so, rating-wise, not so bad. It’s from someone who appears to have read the whole series… and hated it – and me. I’m ‘Redland’ – the one whose voice and characters are disliked:

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Why read the whole series when you “never enjoy them”. And what’s that about Ireland? It was read by an Irish proofreader and copy editor who Irish-ised it for me.

Confused by the review? Yes, I was too! And so was this reader whose comment made my day. Nice to have someone in my corner there:

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I don’t think negative reviews will ever not upset me but how long they upset me for has certainly diminished over time. Everyone has different tastes and my books aren’t going to appeal to everyone who picks them up, even if my genre is usually the one they enjoy. But it would be nice if people could be a little kinder if they haven’t enjoyed what they’ve read.

In fairness, all the negative reviews I’ve placed above with the exception of one were pre-lockdown and some are a few years old. We’re all facing challenges right now and a little bit of kindness – even if the message is 1- or 2-star rating – can go such a long way.

So I’ll leave this post with a big thank you to all those strangers who are kind, who have reached out, who have picked me up at a time when I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained because my day job has doubled in volume and I’m working 12-14 hours a day 7 days a week. Your kind words have meant the world to me and I look forward to creating more characters and stories to provide you all with further comfort and escapism.

Stay home, stay safe, stay kind.

Big (safely distanced) hugs

Jessica xx

PS All the messages and reviews are in the public domain but, in the interests of kindness, I have removed the name from the Amazon reviews. I therefore thought it only fair to remove the names from the kind comments too as this is a post about observing the differences between two approaches and not about popping anyone on the spot and making them feel uncomfortable

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Image by reneebigelow from Pixabay

The one with the unusual Easter

Welcome to Whitsborough Bay

When I was a child, I loved Easter. It signalled two weeks off school – yay – and a huge stash of Easter eggs. I’d receive eggs from my parents, grandparents and all my aunties and uncles. Nom nom! They’d sit on the sideboard in our study at home (an internal garage converted into a room which was always cold – perfect for chocolate storage) tantalising me with their shiny foil promising chocolatey deliciousness. I don’t remember doing Easter egg hunts and I don’t remember there being an Easter bunny. Perhaps these are newer trends or perhaps our family simply didn’t embrace these traditions.

I attended Sunday School back then so I was always very aware of the real meaning of Easter. On Palm Sunday – the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday – the churches in our town would unite for a service in the Parish Church in celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his crucification then reseurrection. This was preceded by a parade up the high street by the uniformed organisations following ‘Jesus’ on a donkey. I was a member of Girlguiding from Brownies through to Rangers and would join the parade each year. We weren’t permitted to wear coats as our uniforms needed to be displayed proudly. Brr! I can remember spending many a parade shivering, blowing on my icy cold hands, desperate for the parade to end so we could get into the warmth of the church – only to discover the church was just as cold! I can also remember the hilarity of trying to dodge the donkey droppings as well as the couple of occasions when the donkey emptied its bowels in the church. Luckily there were flagged floors rather than carpets!

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After I left home, I had many years Easter egg-less. It never felt right treating myself to one so I only got one if I had a boyfriend at the time. I remember one boyfriend buying me one when we were at university. It was a Cadbury’s creme egg one in the shape of a juggler where his tummy was the hollow egg and the juggling balls were two normal sized creme eggs and several mini ones. I was meant to take it home to eat over the Easter holidays but he gave it to me far too early and I couldn’t resist. By the time term ended, I’d eaten the entire contents but had pressed the foil back into the plastic moulding so it still looked untouched. Was that naughty of me?

When my daughter was little, I organised the occasional Easter egg hunt for her and some friends in our back garden or in the house if the weather was bad. We’ve done a few Easter crafts over the years but Easter has never really been a big thing in our house.  We’ve never decorated the house. It’s never been a time when we’ve got together with the extended family for a big celebration. My husband and I are both self employed and home-based so the long four-day weekend doesn’t mean the same as it did when I was in paid employment. More often than not, we’ve had to work over part, if not all, the weekend. And, because we live in a popular seaside resort descended on by hoards of visitors on bank holidays, we’ve always made a conscious decision to stay home all weekend to avoid the tourists and the traffic snarl-ups, promising our daughter a day out the following week instead.

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This year, the residents of the UK (and many other countries around the world) have spent Easter in isolation and, for many, this will have been the first key family occasion since lockdown started. Families have been unable to meet. There’ve been no trips out. No parties, no picnics, no big family barbeques. National parks, heritage sites, and attractions are shut. Coast and countryside have urged visitors to stay away, stay home, stay safe with police positioned at key entry points into tourist resorts, turning away those who seem to think that they’re special and none of the rules of isolation apply to them. Businesses that normally embrace Easter as the start to the ‘season’ have no idea when – or even if – their ‘season’ will resume. And, of course, there are those working tirelessly in the NHS and caring roles, the other emergency services, in supermarkets, factories, and transportation who are trying to keep our country running under extremely challenging circumstance. My love and respect to every single one of you.

Churches world-wide have been closed and services have been online or individually held at home. My mum is the organist for her village church and she’s played during Good Friday and Easter Sunday services conducted via Zoom. She’s embracing the technology although said it was slightly odd when she finished playing and the singing continued for another half verse. The joy of the time delay!

For my immediate family of three, it has been like a ‘normal’ Easter bank holiday weekend where we’ve stayed at home and my husband and I have worked, while being very aware that everything about this weekend is not ‘normal’ at all.

Christmas at Carlys Cupcakes CoverI’ve been working non-stop since we isolation hit without a single day’s break. I knew this weekend would be no different but I made a conscious decision to take four days off from the day job. I know I’ll regret this when I see the queue of assignments waiting for me to mark when I log into my work email tomorrow, but I needed a break from marking. I’m on the first edits of another of the books from my back catalogue that Boldwood Books are going to re-release – Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – so I’ve spend the weekend so far working on those. It therefore feels a little more like Christmas to me than Easter right now!

And I’ve been eating a very large Maltesers Truffle Easter egg which I broke into at 10am on Saturday. What do you mean, that’s not a healthy breakfast? Ooh, and I tried a creme egg yesterday for the first time in years. They’ve always been a favourite but I’d boycotted them after Cadbury’s changed the chocolate recipe. I think I’ll be boycotting them again. Very disappointing.

How was your Easter? Would you normally have spent it with family? Did you do anything virtually instead? Does the Easter bunny come to your house? Did it when you were a child? I’d love to hear about your Easter traditions and what you did this year instead.

Stay safe everyone. Love and hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

 

The one where people need to calm down so I’ve doctored the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s fabulous song

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

This week in the UK, life as we know it has changed beyond all recognition. Other countries like Spain and Italy have been in lockdown for some time and, whilst we haven’t quite hit that point, we’re well on our way. Schools closed yesterday, and the Prime Minister announced that pubs/ clubs/ cafes/ restaurants/ leisure centres/ gyms would need to close with immediate effect.

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Image by Selling of my photos with StockAgencies is not permitted from Pixabay 

The past week or so has seen many strangers reaching out with amazing acts of kindness  but we’ve also seen shocking scenes of ignorance and greed while people panic buy. Supermarket shelves have been decimated with pasta, toilet roll, liquid soap and hand sanitiser being like gold dust. In fact, food in general is flying off the shelves and the ridiculous thing is that there isn’t actually a food shortage or even a threat of one. There’s plenty to go around and the problem is simply that people are grabbing so much that the supply chain can’t get enough to the supermarkets to accommodate the shocking £1bn of additional spending that has taken place this week. Wow! The government’s message today massively focused on this. People basically need to calm down, stop stockpiling, and give a chance to those who are elderly, vulnerable, working shifts and so on as well as the sensible ones among us who are just trying to shop normally.

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Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay 

When I woke up this morning, I had Taylor Swift’s fabulous ‘You Need to Calm Down’ in my head, but with a few tweaked lyrics to fit with the current panic-buying mentality. This afternoon, I had a play about with the full song. If you’re not familiar with Taylor’s song, you can find a You Tube link to it here. I apologise to Taylor for doctoring her brilliant lyrics and hope she can forgive me. And I’m no lyricist so I hope you can forgive me too! I challenge you to sing along and see if you can fit all the words in!

Please calm down, everyone. Just stop! There’s food. There are toiletries. The supermarkets and smaller local stores are not closing down. Many restaurants, cafes and takeaways are still delivering. You don’t need a year’s worth of supplies this week!

By the way, I highly recommend Taylor Swift’s latest album, ‘Lover’. It’s amazing 🙂

Stay safe everyone.

Jessica xx

 

You Need to Calm Down by Taylor Swift, doctored by Jessica Redland

You are somebody in the same boat

But you’re takin’ things from shelves like it’s a joke

And I’m just like, damn, there’s enough to go round

Taking more than three, that’s a bad shout

But to steal from my trolley, that’s a knock-out

And I’m just like, “Hey, have you a brain?”

 

And I ain’t tryna mess with your fear and tension

But I’ve learned a lesson that kindness and compassion are what we need at this time

And greed and hate never saved the world

 

So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh

You need to calm down, you’re being a clown

And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)

You need to just stop

Like can you just not buy all that stuff?

You need to calm down

 

You are somebody who is obsessed

Stockpiling all this food like you’re possessed

Why are you mad?

It makes us so sad (Makes us so sad)

Loo rolls in your house like a stockade

Pasta piled up high like a blockade

Just takin’ that soap you are being a dope

 

You just need to take several breaths and then try to restore the peace

And control your urges to buy all the food that you won’t eat

‘Cause greed never made anybody complete

 

So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh

You need to calm down, you’re being a clown

And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)

You need to just stop

Like can you just not buy all that stuff?

You need to calm down

 

And we see you over there on the internet

Booking all the slots to deliver it

But we’re calling you out

We all know now we can all eat

You need to calm down

 

Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh

You need to calm down (you need to calm down)

You’re being a clown (you’re being a clown)

And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)

You need to just stop (can you stop?)

Like can you just not buy all that stuff?

You need to calm down

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Image by Tumisu from Pixabay Enter a caption

The one where I share 5 things that should NOT be on my desk!

My super writing friend, Sharon Booth, has a fabulous blog and she posted earlier today about the five most important items she has on her desk, which is the sort of blog post I love because I adore little insights into the writing spaces of other authors. You can read Sharon’s post here which, in turn, was inspired by a post from wonderful author Linda Huber whose post you can read here.

I thought I might jump on the bandwagon and write a similar post. But then I looked at the state of my desk and thought maybe I’d take the opposite approach and pick 5 things that should NOT be on my desk, either because they have no place on a desk or because they are maybe a little more unusual.

So, in no particular order, I submit the following evidence…

IMG_7909Yes, that’s right, your eyes are not deceiving you. It’s a bottle of V.I.Poo. On. My. Desk. Why? That’s a very good question! A couple of years ago, this product was launched and the adverts made hubby and me laugh and cringe in equal measures. “Punish the porcelain?” Ew, that’s gross! We speculated on whether anyone would really keep a bottle on them, just in case they were caught short in a public place. Imagine rummaging through your handbag and out pops the bottle of V.I.Poo? I’d die!!!!

Anyway, I bought a bottle – Lemon Idol fragrance – for hubby and wrapped it up as a Christmas gift. Oh, how we laughed on Christmas Day! Across the course of last year, the V.I.Poo bottle kept going back and forth between us, trying to surprise the other with where it materialised. I hid it in hubby’s pillow, his pants drawer, in his hoodie pocket and so on and he revelled in secreting it in my handbag. I arrived at the RNA’s York Tea with it, for example, and it made it down to London with me for the Winter Party. So naughty!

It had provided us with so many fun moments (we probably need to get out more) that, of course, I wrapped it up and gave it to him again this Christmas. He rewarded my generosity by placing it in my handbag once more. And now it’s on my desk, reminding me I need to get revenge at some point. Hmm. Got my thinking cap on…

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Next we have a one-eared toy monkey.

Our 4-year-old Sprocker Spaniel, Ella, loves playing with her dog toys. Some of them don’t last a day but others seem to last years. Every so often, she will decide “today is the day you die” and pick one of her toys to destroy. It’s usually ears or labels or something else fairly easy to rip off and little monkey was the latest victim.

He was confiscated before dying completely and he’s sat on my desk to give her on a day she’s being less destructive!

 

IMG_7908Item 3 is a broken necklace. Of course.

The munchkin really wanted this ‘WISH’ necklace from Claire’s for Christmas. I couldn’t see it in our local store but managed to source it in a sale online and have it delivered to store. She wore it once and it broke. It’s there for a bright day when I don’t have tired eyes and can try to repair it.

As my eyes are permanently tired these days, not sure when that will be. Maybe never.

 

IMG_7912We move onto perhaps a more unusual item but one which I actually find essential: a back scratcher. In fact, it’s an extendable back scratcher. Not only that, it’s an extendable back scratcher in the shape of a bear claw. OMG! Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

Hubby bought it for me last year as we both work from home and I often ask for a back scratch if he comes in to ‘visit’. So he sourced this. It was only a couple of pound off either Amazon or Ebay and, my goodness, it’s been invaluable. I’m like Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book rubbing up and down that tree without actually having to rub up and down a tree … which is just as well because there aren’t any trees in my office.

IMG_7910My final item is this: Body Shop Pink Grapefruit eau do toilette. Oh my, how gorgeous does this stuff smell?

I sit at my desk all day, marking assignments and occasionally (ok, you got me, make that constantly) want to eat cake and biscuits and chocolate because this is a job that requires a lot of concentration but is very repetitive.

I would have to be winched out the roof if I succumbed to all my sweet cravings and I therefore feel appeased if I spritz myself occasionally. It’s sweet in a non-edible way but it seems to work and, of course, my office smells gorgeous on the back of it.

Hope you enjoyed a foray into my not-meant-to-be-here items from my desk. What do you have on your desk that (probably) shouldn’t be there? I’d love to hear from you.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I’m heartbroken

12357000_957718117600822_9195002559067948814_oMonday (20th January), the third Monday of January, is referred to as ‘Blue Monday’ and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. This was is based on a completely non-scientific calculation based on a combination of weather, post-Christmas debt, time since Christmas and New Year, lack of motivation and so on. For me, Blue Monday was the absolutely worst day of the year and of the past several years but not for those reasons. Blue Monday is the day my heart broke because we had to say goodbye to our beloved cat, Felix.

10659109_785339811505321_8803746827979664118_oAs a child, I never had pets and, even though I always loved animals, I admit I didn’t get it when someone talked about a cat or dog (or other domestic animal) being “part of the family”. What? No, of course they’re not. They’re a pet. But now I completely and utterly get it.

Felix and his sister, Pixie, joined our family on 27th April 2006. They were rescue kittens from the RSPCA and my husband said that, as soon as he visited the vet’s after hearing there was a litter of five to pick from, Felix, a black and white short-haired variety, pushed himself to the front of the pen. He definitely picked us. His sister, Pixie, also black and white but long-haired was at the back, being shoved out of the way by the others. Mark felt sorry for her so he chose her too.

11402452_883270705045564_1890615259289843821_oI loved my first pets. We lived in the town centre so they were indoor cats and therefore always around. Like typical siblings, sometimes they loved each other and sometimes they fought. Pixie was definitely in charge, shoving Felix away from the food and dabbing him if he walked past her. They loved to hide in boxes and small spaces, like most cats, but one of their favourite things was playing with crisp packet triangles. When I eat a packet of crisps, I fold it neatly into a small triangle and I taught Mark to do the same. We’d throw it to the cats and they’d have great fun batting it around the room. One day someone came to repair our washing machine and we were mortified when he pulled it out and there must have been about 50 crisp packet triangles shoved under it! I will say that this had obviously been building up over years but was still very embarrassing!

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Pixie, Felix’s Sister

Pixie was a very beautiful-looking cat but she wasn’t very affectionate and, as the years passed, she became quite aggressive, particularly around feeding time. Concerned about her behaviour, we took her to the vet’s and she was diagnosed with diabetes. We did our best to manage this through special food but she got worse. She was visibly losing weight and barely had any energy. I asked Mark to take her to the vet’s while I was at work one day and, sadly, she never came home.

So it was just Felix and, without Pixie around, he became super-affectionate. He was always referred to as my cat. I had Felix, Ashleigh had Pixie and Mark had ‘Ginger’ (the invisible cat). And he really was my little boy. If he wanted attention, it was always me he looked for. If I was in the lounge, he’d lie on the back of the sofa behind me, purring. If I was in bed, he’d jump up and lie on me. If I was in the office, he’d wander in and nudge my legs, demanding a fuss.

Over the last few years, Felix developed a few health problems. One day, his tail suddenly lost its muscle, bending over in a curl rather than standing straight. He developed a lump on his eyelid and then he developed cataracts in both eyes, turning them cloudy. He cut himself on something (we still don’t know what) on his neck and had to wear a cushioned collar to stop him scratching but it didn’t seem to work. The cut got bigger because he wouldn’t stop scratching it so it was back to the vet’s and into a body suit. His first one was red and we jokingly called him Santa’s Little Helper. It seemed to clear and then he opened it again so he was back into another body suit. He didn’t like wearing it and occasionally wriggled out of it. It would be strange seeing it abandoned somewhere in the house with no cat in sight. One time, he managed to get stuck and hurt his leg doing so; another trip to the vet’s and more meds. Daft boy. He must have worn some sort of body suit for the best part of a year – maybe longer – before he finally healed.

Then, towards the end of last year, I noticed that he seemed to have stopped passing stools. We changed his food and occasionally some oily fish would sort him out but toilet visits were intermittent so it was back to the vet’s. Digestive problems and a ‘mega colon’ as a result of being ‘backed-up’. He was given a kick-start and medication to make him more regular but he never got back to normal. A couple of weeks ago, I took him for the same treatment and bloods were taken to see if there was an underlying problem. I knew it wasn’t going to be good and dreaded the phone call with the results: Diabetes, like his sister, but also kidney failure. Add in his digestive problems, his deteriorating eyesight and his age (approaching 14) and the prognosis was not good. ‘End of life’ was discussed. I came off that phone call with the vet and sobbed. I couldn’t bear to lose him but I couldn’t bear the thought of him being in pain.

83084525_2762867103752572_1117322084058398720_oWhat was really hard was that, in himself, Felix seemed fine. He was still extremely agile, leaping up onto the bed or the sofa or a window ledge without hesitation. He was still affectionate. This wasn’t a dying cat … or at least not on the outside. But across the next week, he started to struggle. Sometimes he ate and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he went to the toilet and sometimes he didn’t. Then, over the weekend, he was sick several times. Ashleigh went to school and Mark and I both looked at each other. It was time.

Monday was hell. Our appointment was for 5.30pm. I had work to do and I tried to get on with it but my heart was breaking. I kept looking at the clock, counting down the hours. Every so often, I’d go downstairs. He was curled up on the sofa, very calm, very relaxed. It was as though he knew. I’d spend some time stroking and cuddling him, then return to my work. I couldn’t stop crying all day.

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A few hours before goodbye

Ashleigh knew Felix was ill and that he wouldn’t be with us for that much longer, but she didn’t know the end was so close. Mark picked her up from an after-school drama club and would normally have taken her to the climbing wall. The plan was for him to then come back, pick me up, go to the vet, then pick her up and break the news after it had happened. I kept thinking about how I hadn’t actually been able to say goodbye to Pixie and how upset I’d been at that so suggested it was only fair that, at age 13, she be given the choice as to whether to come home and see him first. She did and, upset as she was, it was the right decision. She went to her Nana’s while we were at the vet’s.

I can’t praise the veterinary practice enough – Companion Care in Pets at Home – for how kind and reassuring they were. A candle gets lit on the reception desk with a sign explaining that, when lit, someone is saying goodbye to a beloved pet. I think that’s such a lovely touch.

Felix was very calm again. I think he was ready. He lay on a furry rug and we stroked him and told him we loved him and that Pixie would be waiting for him.

Coming home with an empty cat carrier felt wrong.

Opening the door and not having him waiting on the stairs squeaking for food felt wrong.

Everything felt wrong. Everything feels wrong.

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“Feed me!”

As I lay in bed on Blue Monday, I kept waiting for him to jump on me like he often did. I kept thinking I could hear the distinctive noise as he hurdled over the wooden end of the sleigh bed and landed on the mattress. But there was no noise because there was no Felix.

Every morning, as soon as someone awoke, Felix would stand on the stairs squeaking to be fed. Awful sound. And yet across the past couple of weeks, I kept telling myself that I’d miss that sound very soon. Sure enough, I awoke on Tuesday and ached to hear him squeak.

I went into the ensuite and prepared for him to nudge the door open, like he always did, while I was mid-wee, weaving around my legs. But he didn’t. As I moved around the house in my morning routine, I was so very aware of the Felix-shaped gap at every moment. He always jumped on the bed, demanding attention, when I was trying to get dressed. But he couldn’t anymore.

We have a dog, Ella, who has been with us for nearly 4 years. Mark takes her out for a walk mid-morning and it was at that point yesterday that the silence in the house screamed at me and I crumpled. I kept thinking I could hear Felix scratching in his litter tray or running up the stairs. I’d see a shadow out the corner of my eye and think it was him.

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Ella and Felix. They tolerated each other but were never friends. Ella has been very melancholy since we said goodbye. She can tell something is wrong

Then today my heart broke even more. The bin lorry came so Mark emptied out the cat litter tray. Glancing into the utility area of our kitchen and seeing the empty space where it had been signalled another Felix-shaped hole in our lives. The silence screamed at me again when Mark and Ella went out for their walk. With some time to spare before I ran a lunchtime webinar, I decided to run the hoover round but that made me cry too. Little fragments of cat litter strewn around were sucked up for the final time ever. I washed his food bowls and put them away. I bagged up his hairy cushion. And I broke down and sobbed.

I know it was the right thing to do because he was dying. There was no cure; there was only a painful prolonging of life for my own selfish needs if we’d hung onto him. I know time will heal. Right now, though, I’m bereft. I miss him so very much that my heart hurts and my head aches and the tears won’t stop flowing. He was in our family for nearly 14 years, he was affectionate and loving and he was very much loved. Some cats can be detached but Felix absolutely wasn’t. With him being an indoor cat and me working from home, he’s just always been there. And now he isn’t.

Mark and Ashleigh are heartbroken too. I told her to try to remember all the things about him that we loved or that made us laugh like the time he climbed into my suitcase when I was trying to pack to go away with work, how he always liked to lie on the clean washing but refused to lie on a throw to protect the sofa, how he loved climbing onto empty shelves or hiding in wardrobes, and how he made a better door than a window when you were trying to watch TV. I’m trying to do the same and hope that, one day, that Felix-shaped hole in my heart will heal and the tears will stop.

RIP Felix xxxxx
(14/03/2006 – 20/01/2020)
(Thank you to the super talented hubby for all the really good pics. I took the not-quite-so-good ones!)

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