What’s on my wall? (Part 8) Monday Motivation

For part 8 of my ‘What’s on my wall?’ #MondayMotivation series, I’ve selected a really special canvas and probably one of the most important pictures/signs I have on my wall.

My husband, Mark, presented this to me on the day my debut novel was published in June 2015 as part of a 3-set of canvases, the others being the book cover for my debut and for a novella that was released a couple of weeks before.

The two book cover canvases are no longer on my wall because these were the covers from my original publishers who ceased trading. Both books then received a fresh cover when I re-released them as each an indie author. Then another revised one. They have since been re-released through Boldwood Books with different titles and a fourth new cover each!

The quote on this sign is so special:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

Isn’t that just fabulous?

This quote came up on the credits at the end of a film Mark was watching and it resonated with him as being so appropriate for me in relation to how I feel about writing. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be lost. It is very much a part of me and I feel strange when I’m not at my keyboard creating, as though part of me is missing.

The day I finished writing my first book was the day I found out why I’d been born. Writing gave me a purpose and a goal. But this year has brought something unexpected. My books have actually helped others. I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the number of messages I’ve had from readers saying that they have discovered my books and binge-reading them has provided valuable escapism, helping them through these challenging times. It’s really humbling to think that my imagination and words have touched others in this way.

I can’t thank my husband and daughter enough for how supportive they are with my writing and the moments when I’m so lost in my creative world that I’m unable to concentrate on anything in reality. I’ll always cherish this canvas from them, reminding me of the day I fulfilled my first goal of becoming a published author, and the day I became the person I was always meant to be.

Do you agree with this quote? Have you found out your purpose? I’d love to hear from you if you have or you’re on your way.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

What’s on my wall (Part 2)? Monday Motivation

Happy Birthday Alice

Last Monday, I started a weekly #MondayMotivation blog post about what inspires me in my office and here’s the second post in the series.

In the UK, it’s evening now but the late posting is not because I’d forgotten (although with my sieve for a brain, that was very likely). I’ve actually been on a book deadline so needed to prioritise getting the manuscript for my second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series to my editor. Which I’ve now done. Eek! The anxious wait for the verdict starts now.

So, onto my wall and today’s choices is…

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I picked up the picture in a gorgeous independent gift shop in Derby in November 2017. I’d love to give the shop a plug but remember that thing I said just now about having a sieve for a brain????

I’m part of a writing collective of ten authors called The Write Romantics who were all members of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) when we met virtually. Seven years later and we’re all either independently published, traditionally published or hybrid with well over 100 books between us. We’re spread around the country so meeting up is a challenge but, a few years ago, half of us managed to coordinate diaries for a weekend away. None of us were familiar with Derby but it seemed like a pretty central point to meet.

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Half of the Write Romantics – L-R Me, Jackie Ladbury, Sharon Booth, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer

Being a huge fan of bears, the image immediately drew me in but the words were what made me buy the picture. BE BRAVE. Because, as authors, there are so many points in our writing journey when bravery is needed:

  • When we first ask someone – a friend or family member – to read our manuscript (MS) and prepare to receive their honest verdict … which may not be the positive response we’d have hoped for
  • When we submit our MS to a publisher or agent … which may result in rejection
  • When it’s publication day … and our book may fail to make an impact on the charts
  • When a negative review comes in … and we have to keep telling ourselves it’s only one person’s opinion/it’s not personal when it really feels like the world hates our work and it’s very personal
  • When we speak at an event … and hope someone turns up!
  • When we finish our next book … and worry it may not be as well received as the one before
  • And a whole lot more

At the time of our Derby meet-up, I was particularly trying to be brave about writing. I’d been indie for about a year after my original publisher ceased trading and it wasn’t going particularly well. Battling self doubt about my ability to make it as an author thanks to poor sales and weak chart positions, the bear spoke to me. Loudly. Yet gently.

The picture hangs above my desk and I look at it several times a day and draw strength from it. Be brave. Keep being brave. And sometimes that bravery will pay off and great things can happen. They did for me.

Wishing you a fabulous week.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where I share some tips about how to start writing

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My desk. Isn’t it tidy? (You should see the state of it right now!)

When I started out on my writing journey, the one thing I didn’t do was connect with other writers. I read loads of “how-to” books and studied my craft, but I never engaged with those who’d been there/done that to get some tips and advice. I wish I had. Every writer approaches things differently but I always find something that resonates with me on every blog post I read from a writer.

Last year, a writing contact on Twitter very kindly asked if I would write a blog post for his blog about my typical writing day and some hints and tips for anyone starting out. I was very happy to oblige and also flattered that I’d been asked. Things like that make me feel like a ‘real’ writer. The post never appeared and it struck me that it was a shame to have written an advice post that was going out of date and languishing. So I’ve posted it here…

 

The first thing to say about my typical writing day is that there’s no such thing as a typical writing day for me. Some writers talk about routines, about writing every day, about not stopping until they’ve achieved so-many-thousand words. It doesn’t work like that for me. I write when I can, as much or as little as I can. Sadly, it’s usually little.

IMG_7454My dream is to be able to write full-time but, for now, writing doesn’t pay the mortgage so I have a day job which has to take priority. I am, however, very fortunate with the flexibility my job provides. Nearly four years ago, I stopped commuting and became a home-based Human Resources tutor. The workload built quickly and I was soon working 12-16 hour days and travelling on weekends to run workshops. Writing was a huge struggle. I’ve managed to reduce it to about a 6-hour day over the past year and the workshops no longer run so I get my weekends free.

On weekdays, I try to stop working by 2pm so I can write. For the past couple of years, I’ve been studying a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University so my writing time could be study time instead but I finished this in October and am thrilled to say I now have an MA!

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When I was a Brown Owl, I awarded myself my ‘Writer’ badge 🙂 

I tend to be fairly disciplined when it comes to writing. I don’t set myself a word count for the day but I do tend to just get on with it. About five years ago, I enrolled in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) which is an international ‘project’ to get a 50k novel written in the month of November. The idea is to just write and not try to edit as you go. I used that approach to finish my second novel and start my third one (the timing wasn’t right for me with my works-in-progress to start on a fresh book like they advocate) and it was the best thing I ever did. I’d faffed about with my debut novel, Searching for Steven, editing and re-editing every time I sat down to write. NaNo got me into a rhythm of just getting on with it and editing after I’d written a full manuscript. I’ve written all my subsequent books using this approach.

Some days, I have my procrastinating head on. Who doesn’t? And if that’s how it’s going to be, so be it. There’s no point in forcing the writing if it isn’t coming. Most of the time, though, I can just sit down and write. I won’t always have the best words in the right order, but the story keeps building and you’d be amazed how quickly you can get to 10k words, then 25k, then 50k…

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Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

I like to keep a track in my diary of how many words I write each day and then total the week for no other reason than the feeling of satisfaction if I’ve had an epic week. I had a couple of weeks last year where I wrote nearly 17k words each week. Very satisfying! This is balanced by weeks where I don’t write at all.

The start of a book is usually my nemesis. When I wrote Searching for Steven, I swear that there were forty or so different starts. And I mean massively different starts. It became a standing joke that I had no idea where the story should really begin. Beginnings have troubled me ever since although not to the same extent.

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Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

Beyond that, I often find the first 10k words come slowly and I think this is because I’m finding my way with the characters and the story. Somewhere between 10k and 15k words the story takes flight and comes together much more quickly.

When I’m not writing, I’m always thinking about my stories and characters. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter i.e. I have a story in mind, I know where it’s going to end, I know who the main characters are, and I then let their story unfold naturally. It surprised me that this is my preferred style because, in ‘normal’ life, I’m very organised and quite a planner. I did try to plan my second novel, Getting Over Gary. It didn’t work. Gary didn’t want to do what I’d planned for him to do and neither did the other characters! Never again. I create a basic profile for my main characters, I plan a character arc for the protagonist(s) and then I let them take me where they want, which can sometimes be in quite surprising directions. For example, in The Secret to Happiness, I had a character who was going to be a ‘baddie’ and she didn’t want to be. She ended up becoming a really lovely character but that meant someone else needed to be the ‘baddie’; someone I hadn’t expected to be so devious!

What’s my advice to anyone thinking of writing or struggling with their writing?

  • If you want to write, write. You may not be great at it but you’ll never know unless you try
  • If you’re thinking “I’d love to write a book but I don’t have time”, then stop right there. I didn’t have time but I made time. I stopped watching the soaps on TV, I stopped lounging around, I wrote whilst commuting to work (I will point out that this was on the train; not whilst driving!) and I developed ideas whilst in the shower. Very, very few writers ever had the luxury of time when they were starting out, but they had a dream and they made it happen
  • Don’t feel you have to write every day. But do think about it each day. I often develop dialogue and plot twists while in the shower, out shopping, or when driving
  • Learn how to write. Being good at writing in day to day life v writing a book are two very different skills. There’s a lot to learn but there are some amazing self-help books, courses, and qualifications out there to help. I spent ten years learning my craft whilst writing my debut. To be fair, I had a lot of years where I didn’t write anything as I married, had a baby, opened and closed a business and changed job several times during that time, but I never lost sight of that goal and never stopped learning
  • Take the NaNoWriMo approach of just getting on with it (learn more here). You can edit it later. You might ditch a lot of it later. But if you don’t get the words down in the first place, you’ll have nothing to edit
  • Don’t write because you want to make a fortune. Most writers don’t. Most still have a day job. Some only make enough for a cheap night out once a month. Write because you have stories to tell and you couldn’t imagine not sharing them
  • Keep a list of ideas. It could be a book title, a plot point, a piece of dialogue or a quirky character. It may not be a fully-formed novel just yet but it could become it one day

I hope you enjoyed my little insight into the world of writing and that it might have inspired you to crack on with that idea that’s been buzzing at the back of your brain if you’re new to this.

All the best

Jessica xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one where I passed my Masters

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

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

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Image from Pixabay

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Graduation Ball … after a much happier final year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx
(MA!!!)

The one where it’s the end of an era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx

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

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugs and good wishes.

Jessica xx

Here’s the blurb:

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

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

Well, almost.

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

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

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

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

 

The one where I get my first ever 1-star review on Amazon

I’ve done it! After nearly 4.5 years as a published writer with ten books out there, it has finally happened. Today, I received my first ever 1-star review on Amazon for my latest novel The Secret to Happiness.

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 13.35.14In the writing community, the first 1-star review is often joked about as being the ‘rite of passage’ or it’s said that you’re ‘not a real author’ until you’ve received one. That might all sound very flippant but it’s a way of dealing with the blow of someone telling us that they thought that the novel that we spent months or even years creating with blood, sweat and tears is, quite frankly, a turd. Ouch. It hurts. But it happens.

Every big name from classics like Austen and Dickens to multi-billion contemporary best-sellers like J K Rowling, Stephen King and Dan Brown has 1-star reviews. So that puts me in pretty good company.

I am quite astonished that I’ve ‘survived’ this long without the lowest rating but I will admit that I smarted when I received it today and not for the reason you’d expect…

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One-star reviews happen and, as authors, we need to accept that not everyone is going to love our story (would be a boring world if we all loved the same things). Some readers will come from the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” school of thought and keep it to themselves whereas others will happily voice their negative opinions and some of those will do it with venom! Which is absolutely their right. Maybe not the venom part but it’s certainly their right to share their opinion.

No, what irked me was that Amazon have changed their rules around reviews. I obviously missed the memo about this and I still believed that it was not possible to just give a rating; words had to accompany it. Not anymore. Now a reader can simply give a rating with no explanation whatsoever and this is difficult to swallow.

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I still have a day job in Human Resources. As an HR Professional, one of my two specialisms is learning and development. I’m therefore all for a bit of (preferably constructive) feedback and I will happily learn from this in my writing career and action it where possible e.g. if a reader has spotted an error. What I can’t do is learn from a 1-star rating with no explanation. And neither can potential readers. I personally don’t make a buying decision based on reviews but there are plenty of readers out there who do and having low ratings without explanations doesn’t help them or the author.

I’ve seen 1-star reviews for other authors along these lines:

Book didn’t appear on my Kindle

Formatting seemed to go funny

Paperback didn’t arrive on time

Not read it yet so can’t rate it

It’s possible that the formatting is down to the author or publisher but not necessarily. The other scenarios above are definitely out of the author’s control and, if a prospective reader is looking at the reviews for a buying decision and the reason for the low-rating is explained as one of the above (or similar), then they can effectively discount that review as it’s not about the story itself.

I’ve also seen 1-star reviews for other authors that state something like:

Absolutely loved it. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for the next

In this case, the reader has clearly misunderstood and clicked on the wrong end of the rating scale. Oops. But, again, a prospective reader looking at reviews as part of their decision-making will see this and be able to discount that 1-star rating too.

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Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

But when a 1-star rating simply appears without a review, who does this help?

  • It doesn’t help the author because it brings down their ratings and gives them nothing to work with
  • It doesn’t help prospective readers because there’s no information to support the rating and factor into their buying decision
  • And, actually, it doesn’t help the person who left the rating because they haven’t had their rant!

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Image by an_photos from Pixabay

I therefore find myself mystified as to why this system would be introduced by Amazon.

Maybe there is a case for just leaving a rating on certain products. For example, if you ordered a pack of 12 x Bic biros, does that really warrant you having to write a review? They’re mass-produced pens. What more can be said? Either you can write with it or you can’t. But for books, is this really an improvement? I’d suggest not but I’d very much welcome your thoughts.

I’m concerned that it opens the system up for abuse. When someone places a review, their Amazon identifier comes up. Sometimes this is their real name but, more often than not, this is an identity they’ve created for their reviews like glitterunicorn or loves2read. Either way, we have no idea who these people are and the unspoken rule is that we don’t communicate with reviewers, even to thank them, but they do have some form of identity on the system and, if curious, we can see what else they’ve reviewed and maybe take comfort that they never give high ratings for books or they clearly don’t enjoy a certain type of book. However, when they just leave a rating, they’re completely anonymous – we just know the rating and nothing about the source – and this surely opens up the opportunity for an individual with an axe to grind to randomly give a low rating to an author they dislike or even of whom they’re jealous whilst appearing completely invisible on the system.

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On Tuesday, I shared the above tweet to say that 35 of the 36 reviews on Amazon were 5-star. Is it a coincidence that, within two days, an anonymous 1-star rating appeared (bearing in mind it usually takes a couple of days for ratings/reviews to materialise)? Yes, quite possibly. In fact, I hope it is. But I wouldn’t be an author if my mind didn’t work overtime and constantly ask ‘what if…?’ What if someone decided to take me down a peg or two after that tweet? What if someone was sitting there saying, ‘Nearly all 5-star? Well, not anymore. Ha ha ha ha ha!’ I just don’t know. I’d like to think that nobody could be so cruel but we live in a world full of hatred and unkindness exacerbated by keyboard warriors and trolls who don’t think about the impact their words might have on others. Or don’t care.

Can I just emphasise that I’m not upset at receiving a 1-star rating (she writes through the blur of tears before ripping open her second box of tissues for the day). After all, 36 readers disagree. I’m just a bit bewildered by Amazon’s change to allow ratings instead of reviews. Please do pop a comment below and let me know what you think.

Edit: I meant to say something which I put on my FB post about this earlier and that there may well be a whole pile of positives to this change that I’m simply not thinking of because I’m too blinkered by the 1-star review. Huge thanks to Shalini, a prolific reader and reviewer who has been so supportive of my writing for giving another perspective on this. It’s well worth reading her comments for an alternative take (click on the option at the top of this post to see comments).

Jessica xx

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Image by Ka Young Seo from Pixabay

The one where I anxiously await tomorrow’s book launch day

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Tomorrow will signal launch day for The Secret to Happiness. The final changes to the manuscript were made a couple of months ago so I’ve been building up to this for a while now although the last few days seem to have whizzed by.

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Image by Felix Lichtenfeld from Pixabay

This is my tenth release but the first with my fabulous new publisher, Boldwood Books. So far, The Secret to Happiness has been available for pre-order on Kindle, but it will be available in a multitude of formats from launch day:

  • eBook on all platforms
  • Audio – physical and streamed
  • Large print
  • Print on demand paperback
  • Available through all libraries

This is all very exciting because my other books are currently only available on Kindle so I’m hoping that a wider readership will be able to tap into them.

I haven’t received my physical author copies yet but look forward to that box arriving very soon and being able to sniff and stroke my book baby (I know, authors are weird!) I’m not sure there’ll be much to sniff about my audio copies but I will give them a gentle stroke.

In my fantasy life, I’m a super-successful author who’ll spend launch day spent relaxing on a chaise-longe, sipping on white or pink wine (not a fan of champagne or prosecco) and being fed cake and chocolates (grapes being far too healthy!)

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

In reality, I’m taking a day off from the day job of marking assignments, my drink of choice will be water and Diet Pepsi or Ribena Light and I’ll be dreaming about cake, whilst frantically refreshing Amazon every hour. My husband has already joked that I’m going to be an obsessive nightmare,  repeatedly panicking that I’m a huge failure and a massive disappointment to my publishers if my book doesn’t set the charts on fire. He’s right. I can feel the panic welling already!

Hubby and I are going out for lunch, which will be lovely, but that will be via the phone repair shop because I dropped my phone this morning and, although there’s not a scratch on it, I appear to have dislodged the screen and it no longer responds to touch. I suspect that this will be expensive.

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Image by annca from Pixabay

How am I feeling about tomorrow? I am what my 12-year-old daughter would call nervo-cited which is a mixture of nervous and excited. Despite amazing reviews on my other books, I’ve floundered in making an impact on the Amazon charts. It seems that those who find my work love it … but not that many find it.

Thirty-two NetGalley advance copy reviews would indicate that readers are loving The Secret to Happiness too which I’m thrilled about … but will that translate into sales and chart positions and take me one step closer to my dream of doing what I love and writing full-time? Desperately hoping that it will. I’m therefore probably more on the nervous side of nervo-cited as I have high hopes for this release.

There’s still time to pre-order The Secret to Happiness for Kindle for the bargain price of £1 by clicking here. A huge thank you to those wonderful reviewers who have warmed my heart with their amazing comments so far. It’s helped ease the nerves … a little bit, anyway.

Jessica xx

 

Everyone deserves a chance at happiness…

Danniella is running from her past, so when she arrives at the beautiful seaside resort of Whitsborough Bay, the last thing on her mind is making friends. After all, they might find out her secrets…

Alison is fun, caring and doesn’t take herself too seriously. But beneath the front, she is a lost soul, stuck in a terrible relationship, with body confidence issues and no family to support her. All she really needs is a friend.

Karen’s romance has taken a back seat to her fitness business. But she doesn’t want to give up on love quite yet. If only those mysterious texts would stop coming through …

When the women meet at their local bootcamp, a deep friendship blossoms. And soon they realise that the secret to happiness is where they least expected to find it…

 

 

 

 

Have you missed me?

Oh my. Is it really two months since I last posted on my blog? That’s quite shocking. It’s been a crazy busy couple of months. Let’s face it, though, it’s been a crazy busy year … several years … decade. I guess that’s how it is when you have a full time job and try to write as well.

Writing-wise, I feel like I’ve hardly put fingers to keyboard recently although I’ve had a few key moments:
1. I attended another library talk. This one was at Filey Library down the coast from my home in Scarborough. There were 12 attendees plus library staff which was a great turn-out and I sold several copies of ‘Searching for Steven‘ which was a huge bonus

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2. I met a lovely new writing friend called Helen Reynolds. Helen is writing a historical series which sounds very exciting. She’s also a social media expert and gave me some great tips and advice

3. I finished my final edits on book 2 of the Whitsborough Bay series – ‘Getting Over Gary’. This was a big thing for me. I’d had very few edits to make for Steven but there were several for Gary including a massive re-think about the way I’d written it. I’d originally told the story from two points of view but it’s now from only one. I fought against changing it at first but am now glad that I have because I think the book is better for it

4. I’ve agreed a revised launch date with my publishers for ‘Getting Over Gary’. Instead of June 2016, it’s going to be launched on 3rd March 2016 with the final book in the trilogy coming out in late summer the same year instead of June 2017 like originally planned. Very exciting. We’re working on the final edits for the cover right now so I’m looking forward to doing a reveal soon

I’ll make this a short one and hopefully find some time for a bit more blogging soon. Thanks for bearing with me xx

Happy Anniversary to Me!

There’s a phrase I often use: “What a difference a day makes“. I’m not sure of the original origin (it didn’t come up on the first page of Google and I was far too lazy to look further), but it’s the title of a few songs, including the lovely Dinah Washington classic so I’ve linked it through to You Tube if you fancy a listen. The song talks about Dinah’s world changing from blue to joyous when the man of her dreams becomes hers. This isn’t usually the context in which I use the phrase myself. I tend to use it more to describe those occasional days that change an aspect of your life. For me, a very life-changing day happened exactly a year ago today (17th September). It was the day that I received my publishing deal from So Vain Books because that email and subsequent phone call made me into the published author I am today.

11312759_890004877705480_5647299591566996495_oAs it happens, I was already on the path to publication because a little over two weeks before, on 1st September, I’d received an offer of a three-book publishing deal with another company. I’d verbally accepted it and was going through the paperwork, but I had one or two concerns. Although they’d said they loved Searching for StevenI got the sense that they wanted to change it quite significantly and I was concerned that it wasn’t going to end up the story that I set out to write. When the offer from SVB came through, my gut instinct told me that they were going to be the better home for Steven and I’ve never for one moment regretted that decision.

So that was a day that made a difference, but it’s really been a year that’s made a difference that I wanted to talk about in this blog post. It’s certainly been an eventful year. In the non-writing part of my life, there’ve been some significant events:

  • _MG_6896Both of my parents have turned 70 (well, Dad turns 70 in two week’s time but it’s nearly within the year!)
  • Our gorgeous cat Pixie lost her battle with diabetes and left us at the young age of nine
  • We took our daughter (seven at the time) on her very first holiday abroad
  • I was made redundant completely unexpectedly, but thankfully walked straight into another job
  • Hubby and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary (again, I’m extending the year slightly because it’s actually a week today but that’s close enough between friends, isn’t it?)
  • I re-joined bootcamp and have been rising again at 5.20am three mornings a week for the past year
  • Hubby decided to take his interest in photography to the next level and has grown into an incredibly talented photographer who has taken pictures at his first wedding as well as undertaking his first corporate commission. Very proud!

_MG_5008In the writing part of my life, I can’t believe what’s happened to me! I’ve:

  • Released a novel (Searching for Steven) AND a novella (Raving About Rhys)
  • Peaked at number 399 in the overall Amazon chart with Steven
  • Received x50 reviews for Steven and x33 for Rhys
  • Only got 5-star and 4-star reviews (so far; always preparing myself for that first 1-star review and promising myself I won’t sob for hours when it appears!)
  • Been a contributor to an anthology of short stories (Winter Tales), raising money for Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust
  • Appeared in the local press: The Scarborough News, The Yorkshire Coast, The Scarborough Review, and The Scarborough Comet
  • Talked and signed books at two libraries, and secured talks at two others
  • 1972459_10153485966594073_1735178700762728074_nHad Steven stocked across North Yorkshire Libraries
  • Got Waterstones to stock Steven in the Scarborough branch
  • Had a launch party attended by lots of incredibly supportive and lovely friends and family
  • Had a blue plaque named for me (OK, so it was a DIY-special courtesy of my dad but it’s still pretty special!)
  • Finished my second novel, Getting Over Gary (well, it will be finished within two weeks as that’s deadline time)
  • Planned my second novella. (Confession: when I say ‘planned’, I mean there’s an idea in my head and I’ll just run with that and see where it takes me, but I took the same approach with Rhys and it worked so let’s hope second time will work too!)

Blue PlacqueYes, what a difference a year makes! I still find it hard to believe that I’m a published author. It still doesn’t feel real. I wonder if it ever will. Thank you so very much to everyone who has supported me over the last year and before that too. Thank you So Vain Books for taking a chance on me, thank you to everyone who has bought/read/reviewed Steven and all those who’ve promoted and recommended it to their friends and family. You’re amazing, every last one of you. I’ve been touched and overwhelmed by how supportive some people have been. I’ll admit I’ve also been very disappointed at the lack of support from some people who I thought would have been pleased for me and passed word on. If you’re a prolific Facebook user, how difficult is it to like and share a post and say something like “My friend wrote this. I’m not a reader myself but if any of my FB friends are, it’s got great reviews so why not give it a go?” I’d certainly have done that if roles had been reversed. I won’t dwell on this, though, as this is a happy post and the non-supporters are absolutely in the minority. Plus it’s their choice. I just thought …. *slaps wrist and tells self to stop dwelling on it* Thank you to North Yorkshire Libraries for their support, particularly Sharon Houghton from Eastfield Library, and to Waterstones for ordering copies of Steven. Huge thanks to my mum, Joyce Williams, who has left postcards on noticeboards whilst on holiday, and talked so many of her village residents into buying a signed copy of the paperback. Thanks to The Write Romantics for their eternal support. And finally thanks to hubby and the munchkin for letting me disappear into my world of imaginary friends on a regular basis without moaning that I’m neglecting them xxx

I can’t wait to see what the next year brings …

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