The one where I visited Steampuss Cat Lounge

I love cats but was never allowed pets as a child. When I was at senior school, I lived several miles from school but my best friend lived a short walk away so I’d go to her house at lunchtime. One summer’s day, we found a litter of 4 kittens abandoned in a cardboard box in a cut-through by a main road. Who does that?! I dread to think what would have happened to the poor little things if they’d got out and ventured onto the road. My friend and I carried two each to her house. In a gesture of extreme gratitude for rescuing them, one of them peed down my white school shirt! Yummy! I wanted to keep one but wasn’t surprised when I was told a resonating no. Fortunately my friend’s mum found them all new homes.

It was many years later before I owned my first pets when, fourteen years ago, my husband and I adopted two RSPCA rescue kittens: Felix and Pixie. Sadly they’ve both crossed the rainbow bridge. We lost Pixie six years ago and Felix left us in January this year.

No longer having my own cats to fuss over, I was really keen to visit Steampuss Cat Lounge which had opened in Scarborough in 2019. Then Covid hit and that wasn’t an option.

Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of The Secret to Happiness – my first release through Boldwood Books – and it was also the last day before my daughter, Ashleigh, returned to school so I booked us in to visit the cats as a special treat. What a lovely hour! In fact, some might say purrrr-fect!

The cafe is on Scarborough’s Bar Street which provides partial inspiration for Castle Street which appears in many of my books. There’s a ground floor room which, when we were there, had two tables and a lower ground room also with two tables. Booking is advisable to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited. This can be done via their website or Facebook page.

There are twelve cats who go home with the owners each day rather than living in the cafe but they’re not all there every day. We were told that there were eight cats there during our visit and we saw seven of them. There’s an area on the lower ground floor for staff and cats only so a cat may occasionally go in there for a complete break.

Ashleigh and I were thrilled to be allocated a ground floor table by the bay window because it’s in the window where the cats tend to congregate. There’s a large scratching post/sleeping tower in the middle and vintage suitcases either side which the cats were curled up in.

Most of the cats are named after characters in films/books and there’s a lovely booklet on the table including pictures and giving detail about each cat from breed to age to who its best friends are. Awww! It’s perfect for trying to identify the cats although a few of them have similar markings so we’re not convinced we were accurate with our guesses!

The menu includes hot and cold drinks and cakes but there’s a large choice within that and vegan/gluten-free choices too so it caters for all dietary needs. Ashleigh and I both had the most delicious milkshake we’ve ever tasted. Mine was caramel and vanilla and hers was white chocolate and vanilla. To eat, she chose chocolate cake and I had a Victoria sponge with passion fruit topping although her chocolate cake was enormous and she let me have the last bit. Nom nom!

Delicious as it was, a visit to Steampuss was not about the food for us. It was all about the experience of being there among the adorable cats. You’re allowed to stroke them when they’re asleep (which several were) but are asked not to try to wake them up and definitely not to lift them. Full guidance on getting the most out of your visit and treating the cats with care and respect is on the website.

When we first went in, the largest cat – Hagrid – was in the middle of the floor, staring at us. It was as if he was telling us it was his domain and checking us out. Loved that! Once he was satisfied we were friends rather than foes, he settled into one of the beds on the scratching post.

There were six cats including Hagrid spread out in the window area but then another appeared. Lots of shelves were built into the walls in a way that made an accessible climb for the cats so that one decided to hang out on one of the higher shelves.

Ashleigh absolutely loved the experience. She’s 13 and I think children young and old and adults (as long as they like cats) will adore a visit. Actually, scrub that, even if they’re not cat-people, it’s such a lovely experience. Do it!

The cats are so soft and happy and lovely. A friend of Ashleigh’s has visited and it sounds like they were more active during her visit. Having been a cat owner myself, I would imagine that there are times of the day when they might be prowling more than sleeping, either of which will be amazing.

It costs £5 for an adult and £4 for a child to have an hour in the Steampuss Cat Lounge and then, of course, you do pay for your food and drinks on top of that. There are also various gifts available.

We’ll definitely be back in person but I hope to be back in my imagination too because, of course, the cogs are now whirring and I have a story forming. I would love to add a cat cafe to Castle Street. I think it would be perfect in Whitsborough Bay and not in competition to Tara’s The Chocolate Pot because it’s a very different experience to what Tara offers.

Because I was celebrating my book publication anniversary, I just happened to have a paperback with me for a photo shoot!

I highly recommend a visit to Steampuss Cat Lounge. You can find their website and all the details about the cats here. They’re also on Facebook here. The Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Steampuss with Twitter not active since last year but Instagram full of regular picture updates for a gorgeous fix of beautiful cats.

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where it was my first week as a full-time author and it still hasn’t sunk in

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When you get the one thing you’ve worked so hard towards and dreamed of for years, how long does it take to actually sink in?

Last Sunday (7th June 2020), I assessed my final assignment, responded to my final student query, submitted my invoice and put on a permanent out of office. That was it. Done. I was no longer an HR tutor; the home-based role I’ve had for just over five years.

IMG_8346I didn’t set any major writing goals for my first week as a full-time author because I had a feeling that, the moment I took my foot off the pedal, the fatigue of a demanding work schedule would catch up with me. For the past five years, I’ve worked more than full-time hours in the day job, have written eight books, have created several works-in-progress (probably the equivalent of another full-length novel-and-a-half) and have obtained a Masters in Creative Writing. For more than half of that time, I was also the Brown Owl for a 24-strong Brownie Pack. Eek! I feel exhausted just thinking about it! With so much going on, sleep was a frequent struggle.

As suspected, it did catch up with me this week and I have felt phenomenally tired every single day. I probably should have just taken two days off and slobbed in front of the TV but I was keen to get some word count under my belt on the WIP. It’s been slow-going, though. Not because I’m struggling with the WIP but because I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I gave up and had a lie on the bed with the dog on Monday afternoon. Three hours later… Oops! Still, I obviously needed it.

IMG_8354Today – Saturday –  is the first day I feel slightly less fatigued although I think the lie-in until 10.15 a.m. massively helped. I haven’t slept in like that in years!

The big difference for me this week has been a determination not to work every evening like I normally would and I have to admit that it has been strange. Very strange. I’m so used to watching some TV while eating my tea, then getting up as soon as the programme finishes and returning to work for the evening. In fact, I’m so used to it that, up until Wednesday, my body was actually twitching with that familiar routine and it has been so lovely not to have to get to my feet and retreat to my computer.

I do want to form a routine over the next couple of weeks where my time writing is focused, I finally have the opportunity to work through my enormous TBR pile, and I have some family time too but I think I natural routine will probably evolve once the tiredness subsides.

I’ve had lots of lovely surprises arriving in the post this week too. Flowers, cake and Prosecco, cards, a teddy bear with a special wooden necklace celebrating my new career, a Lucy Pittaway mug and notepad, some Cath Kidston hand creams (with hedgehogs on them) and a gift voucher. I really wasn’t expecting anything. And then hubby disappeared late this morning and returned with an amazing cake in the shape of my next release, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, which looked too good to cut into but, hey, it’s cake and cake does not survive for long when I’m around with a fork in hand! Thank you so much to Mark and Ashleigh, Sharon, Helen, Jo, Liz, Carol, Wendy and Mum and Dad for your amazing generosity xx

I also treated myself to a cross stitch – something I haven’t done in years but used to love doing to relax – and a new sign for my wall. Feeling very spoilt right now!

Despite everything, it still hasn’t sunk in that it’s finally happened. The thing I’ve been dreaming/wishing/hoping/longing for has come true. I keep expecting to have to do the day job. Maybe next week it will start to feel real…

Wishing everyone a relaxing weekend and a great week ahead.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

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 went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

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

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

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

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

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

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Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

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

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

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The New Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx

 

The one where I look back at April

I’ve decided to start a new monthly post where I reflect on the previous month. Hmm. Might only remember to do this once but the intention is definitely there!

Award Logo with Gary - CoverApril was an award-winning month. Getting Over Gary won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award and also a Cover of the Month Award which was a bit exciting. The final book in the trilogy, Dreaming About Daran, is under consideration at the moment so I’ve got everything crossed that May brings exciting award news for Daran.

Award Logo wth Gary

I went to an event in my hometown of Scarborough as part of our literary festival: Books by the Beach. It was a talk with Lucy Diamond and Lynne Truss.

I really like Lucy Diamond’s books. I’ve read a couple and have a few more on my TBR pile. I am more familiar with Lynne Truss for the incredibly successful book about punctuation, Eats Shoots and Leaves. She’s recently written a humorous crime novel called A Shot in the Dark so she was talking about that. Both women read very gripping excerpts from their novels, engaged in conversation with the presenter, and answered audience questions.

My good friend, Sharon Booth, joined me so it gave us a good excuse to go for lunch  to reflect on what we’d heard and have a good old catch-up. There was cake. There’s always cake! Ooh, and we had milkshakes. Yummy.

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I saw Sharon again earlier this week when I joined the monthly RNA Chapter Meeting in Beverley. We decided to meet a little earlier for tea but it went a bit wrong initially. The Chapter changed venue last month to a quieter pub with a little more space for us to get together without being on top of the other patrons. They were serving food so Sharon and I arranged to meet early there only to discover that, somewhere between our March and April meetings, they’d decided it wasn’t financially viable to have the kitchen open on a Monday or Tuesday (not enough punters). Fortunately one of the customers was able to direct us to a pub a couple of minutes’ drive away where there was food. I had a delicious meal and couldn’t resist a spot of pudding: cookie dough cheesecake.

Writing-wise, I’ve been very busy editing my next release. It was a little long at 115k words and I’ve managed to reduce it by 20k. This has really tightened the story and I feel much more positive about it. I’ve also made some progress on the next release after that, which is now at 15k words.

IMG_6086Outside of my writing cave, I took my 12-year-old daughter to see Dumbo at the cinema over the Easter break. Visually, it was spectacular, but it was bit dark and a bit sad for me. I suppose that was to be expected with it being a Tim Burton piece. Sadly, my daughter sobbed all the way through it so it was actually quite a traumatic experience. I think I’d have probably enjoyed it a bit more if she hadn’t been so distraught. Bless her. She needed mummy cuddles throughout!

She put me through another traumatic experience a few days later. We needed to go shopping for holiday clothes for her so we headed through to a retail park in York. Guess how long we spent in Primark? I do not exaggerate when I say we were in there for 2.5 hours. Argh! I didn’t mind the wandering around and picking clothes part but the trying on was hideous as she is unbelievably slow. I’d probably try on 6 things in the time it takes her to pull on one. She was in the changing rooms for about an hour. An hour, I tell you! I was finding it painful enough but poor hubby was losing the will to live as he waited by the basket! On a positive note, she’s fully kitted-out now. Phew. Because I absolutely could not go through that again any time soon! And what did I get as a treat? A pair of shorts and a vest top. Feeling a little short-changed!

IMG_6089We’ve had a couple of family events this month too. My in-laws celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary so there was a family party for that and my nephew on hubby’s side of the family became a dad for the first time too. I haven’t had a chance to meet baby Winnie as she is on the special care baby unit after being born at 32 weeks but hopefully I’ll get a chance to welcome her to the family really soon. Her arrival got my daughter all broody and the ‘can I have a brother or sister’ question arose again. Absolutely not!

My final bit of news is that I’ve resigned from part of my day job. I’m an HR Tutor, marking assignments and answering queries for students studying their HR professional qualification online. I work from home and I love the flexibility this role has around my writing. I did have a secondary role as an internal verifier (IV) with the same company, quality checking the work of other tutors and giving feedback to them. It was something I did quarterly but the volumes massively increased in the most recent round and, for the second half of March and first half of April, I couldn’t squeeze any writing in as I had so much IV work to do. I made the decision to resign from that role as I really can’t afford not to write for a third of the year. I’ll miss the income, but the time back is far more valuable to me.

So, that’s my April. I feel quite exhausted thinking about it!

Hopefully I’ll do one of these for May too and get into a routine. You have permission to slap me with a wet halibut if I don’t!

Have a great May, whatever you’re doing.

Jessica xx

 

 

 

I don’t feel like a published writer … but maybe there isn’t a “feeling” to feel

Has it really been that long since I posted? Oops! To be fair, I’ve been on holiday and, even though I was only away for a week, I feel like I’ve only just got back into the swing of things because life had been so hectic just before holiday and immediately afterwards with one major activity taking a lot of my time: the launch of the first Write Romantics anthology!

I can now officially say I am a published writer with both an e-Book AND a paperback to my name. But when I first said that to my husband on the launch of ‘Winter Tales’ on 8th November, he frowned and said, “But you’re already a published writer.” And he was absolutely right. Because, in 2010, an anthology was launched that also featured a short story I’d written.

IMG_1558Back in 2009 when I entered the English Heritage competition to feature in an anthology of short stories set at or inspired by local landmark Whitby Abbey, I had no expectations of winning. Short stories aren’t really my thing, either as a reader or a writer and, but I felt drawn to the competition. I live just down the coast from Whitby and it’s a place I’ve visited since childhood and have always loved. I have fond memories of visiting there with my parents, my grandparents, as a Brownie, Guide and Ranger, and more recently with my own family. The other pull was that one of the judging panel was G P Taylor whose kind words about my work during his creative writing course had made me believe I could write. The entries were anonymous so this certainly wouldn’t have any bearing on my winning or not but it felt like there were two strong draws that I couldn’t ignore.

An idea formed but I absolutely left it until the 11th hour to get it right, submitting it at 2 minutes before the deadline. I knew it wasn’t perfect but I also knew that having a three-year-old, a full-time job and a long commute to work meant I’d had no time to make it any better. The winner was announced and, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t me. An email several months later had me shaking with excitement, though. Fifty other entries had been selected to feature in an anthology that would be sold in aid of Whitby Abbey and my story was one of them! I vividly remember the day I heard. I was at a team meeting in Croydon and we’d taken a break during which I’d checked my emails. I had to share my news with the team the moment we reconvened. I’m not sure anyone quite got it but I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face because, for me, this was the first step: an official confirmation that I could write because I’d been selected as one of the best.

IMG_1557It took an eternity for the book to be pulled together and it was late 2010 before it was launched. It was available on Amazon but, as Whitby Abbey is just up the coast, I had this vision of us making a day trip of it. I felt a bit silly suggesting this to my husband as I felt like I was making a big deal out of something really minor. I kept hoping that he’d suggest it himself. Isn’t that what the hero would do in a romance novel? He’d suggest a day out but drive to the Abbey instead and have a bottle of champagne and a cake discretely tucked away in a backpack to be whipped out at the appropriate moment. I won’t go into what did happen but it wasn’t that and the whole experience felt pretty flat and unreal. I had the book in my hands but I didn’t feel like a published writer at all.

Roll forward four years and, on 8th November this year, we launched the e-Book of the Write Romantics charity anthology: Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart. We had an online Facebook party which seemed to go well. We even had guests who weren’t anthology contributors attending! I still didn’t feel like a published writer, though. I reasoned it was because I didn’t have a physical book to hold this time and I’d had to download the anthology onto my Kindle as a test so it wasn’t like I’d had the chance to download it as a buyer and have it suddenly appear on my Kindle.

_MG_6911This Saturday the CreateSpace proof copy of our paperback arrived. I’d been out for the day with the munchkin as Santa had arrived in the harbour for a parade to his grotto (don’t ask) so I didn’t get the Amazon package until late in the afternoon. Hubby nonchalantly drifted down the stairs while I removed my coat and said, “This arrived for you.” Eek! The proof! I actually felt quite nervous about opening it, especially as hubby was also dying to see it so was hovering.

How did I feel on actually opening it and taking it out its packaging? A bit numb really. Yes, it was exciting to see it, but not quite as exciting as I’d expected. Maybe it’s because it was a “proof” copy so not quite the “real thing”. Maybe it was because it’s an anthology so my name isn’t specifically on the front. Or maybe it simply hasn’t sunk in. You see, I can say I’m now a twice-published writer but I’m not a twice-published writer who can write full-time or even part-time. I’m a twice-published writer who still needs to work because neither of these projects are about earning money; they’re about charity and rightly so. I’m a twice-published writer who’ll go back to work in a frozen foods factory tomorrow, not knowing if I’m about to lose my job as a result of some imminent restructuring in the HR function. I’m a twice-published writer who is hoping that the saying “third time lucky” does apply to me and that my third opportunity for publication – the release of my debut next year – will lead me a step closer to the dream of writing full-time. Fingers crossed.

_MG_6896Don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally excited. I just don’t feel different. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps there is no different feeling. Hmmm.

While I ponder on that one, I’d love it if you could bob on over to Amazon to order Winter Tales. It’s available as an e-Book here and paperback here. All proceeds are split equally between Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust and the book would make a fabulous stocking filler. Go on, you know you want to …

Jessica xx

A bit of tea & sympathy is even better with cake!

I’m a huge fan of the Eurovision Song Contest so was glued to my TV for about 3.5 hours last night getting seriously envious of the skin and figure of bearded drag-Queen Conchita Wurst who took Austria to the winning spot with a massive 290 points. Inspired by Eurovision, I began writing a post about what makes a winning song and quoting some dodgy lyrics from the past. It took quite a bit more research than expected so I had to leave it part-written to go out and fulfil my afternoon plans. However, having got back from my afternoon out, I’ve ditched the Eurovision post in favour of inspiration from my afternoon instead.

You see, this afternoon I had something as good as a child-free afternoon of writing. I had tea, sympathy and cake with two writing friends (Alex and Sharon). We talked about writing solidly for four hours, only halted by closing time at Costa. I could have stayed for hours more and, driving home, I thought about what an amazing support network of friends I have with The Write Romantics and with Alex (who is also a Write Romantic) and Sharon which then got me reflecting on friendships and support groups throughout my life so far.

ImageWhen I was at primary school, I don’t remember having a big circle of friends. I was one of these kids who played with most other kids and dipped in and out of groups. There were a gang of kids within a 3-year age range in my street and the next who tended to hang around outside of school and I was a leader in that gang but we didn’t interact at school. By the time the oldest went to senior school, the gang fell apart because it simply wasn’t the done thing for senior school children to mix with primary kids!

Senior school overwhelmed me. With seven or eight feeder primary schools plus outlying villages, it was enormous. Most of my friends from primary school were disbursed amongst different classes and I felt really alone. I had a friend from primary school who I hung around with in my 1st year and then a new best friend (let’s call her Emily) for the next two years. We were inseparable while we were in the same form class but she found a new best friend by 4th year who was prettier and slimmer and therefore a better boy-magnet then me. Emily and I were still allegedly best friends until we went away for university but I’d say it was a toxic friendship and one I don’t miss.

In college, I was part of a small group of four but always felt like the outsider and it was the same when I started university. The first time I really experienced a great group of friends who supported each other was on my year out. There were a group of us who were on our placement year and we mixed with the graduate trainees with the bank we worked for. It was amazing. There was always something going on and I thought I’d found friends for life. But things don’t always work out as expected. Without email or mobiles, we lost contact during our final year at university and when a few of us returned as graduate trainees ourselves, I found myself on the outside of a huge clique. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. The next couple of years were a very lonely place although I did have a small group of very good friends from my final year at university who kept in touch and met up regularly.

Then, in my mid-twenties, I became part of a huge circle of friends. It felt like it had done on my year out again. We all worked for the same bank but had met through a work social club that organised adventure activity weekends. I felt so at home with like-minded people. We all loved being outdoors, challenging ourselves to abseil, gorge-walk, mountain-bike, surf or whatever we were doing that weekend. We all worked for the same company. And we liked beer! Once again, I thought I’d found friends for life. But one by one we left the bank to further our careers and, even though the love for the great outdoors hadn’t gone, the activity weekends had (because they were organised through work) and the connection of work had gone too.

After that, I moved around the country with work and never had a big group of friends again. I have some amazing friends I’ve gathered along the way from Guides, university, holidays and work but no big groups. Until I became a Write Romantic, that is.

One of the friends I met through doing all my outdoor activities used to say that we wouldn’t be friends long-term because, once we left the bank, we’d have nothing in common. She said friends come and go and it’s not worth trying to make a friendship work for the long-term. I used to find that quite an odd and disturbing outlook on things. But she was absolutely right. Perhaps things would have been different if social media had been around but it wasn’t so our friendship did, indeed, fall apart. I tried not to let it but she stopped returning my calls. Hard – but valuable – lesson to learn. 

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With The Write Romantics, we haven’t actually all met yet. I met Jo virtually and we set up the blog, then I met Alex at a dinner organised by another RNA-member. Alex met Sharon, another member of the New Writer’s Scheme, through Twitter and, as the three of us all lived within an hour of each other, we met up around this time last year and then again today.

Quite quickly after we started the blog, Jo and I realised we couldn’t sustain regular entries from just the two of us so we opened up membership and are now nine.

We’re different ages, live in different parts of the country (and one even lives in Australia), we write different genres and we all have very different backgrounds but the one thing that will always connect us is writing. We may move, we may change jobs, we may change partners, we may change other hobbies but the nine of us (and Sharon as our honorary member) will always, always, write. Because it’s in our veins. Because it’s in our minds. Because we have to. For that reason, we are – and will continue to be – the most amazing support network for each other. 

It’s been said many times that writing is a solitary occupation. It’s also one where you have to be so tough and resilient to face the rejections as you try to get published and the bad reviews when you do get published (whether this be traditionally or self) and we all have our moments where we wobble like crazy. Moments where we want to give up. Moments where we don’t think we’ll make it. Moments where we don’t believe we’re good enough. But all we need to do is put something on our closed Facebook group or message one of the others and we have tea, sympathy and cake to cheer us up. Most of the time this is virtual but today was so lovely to have it face to face. Alex, Sharon and I are all working on “that difficult second book”. We’re all thinking about the future and what it holds. And we’re all talking about self publishing and what this may mean. Today was so valuable to talk through where we are with our writing journeys and our hopes for the future. I think I may have talked far too much but I do have a few things clearer in my own mind about where I personally want to go with my writing. I feel even more positive about the latest rejection that came through last week. And I have a new idea for a novel inspired by a line in a song I listened to on the way home.

So thanks Alex and Sharon for today. Thanks to the Write Romantics for the last year. And thanks to all the friendships that have come and gone in my life because you’ve made me the writer I am today. At the RNA Conference last year, writer Julie Cohen ran a brilliant workshop about theme. I realised that all the plots I had for novels have a theme running through them. Yes, they’re all romance stories because that’s the genre I write but they all have the theme of friendship – lifelong friendships, friendships changing over time, toxic friendships. You name it, it’s in there. And I know it’s because of my experiences throughout the years as friends have dipped in and out of my life, most leaving fond memories but some leaving scars. I’ve also learned from those who’ve stayed in my life, some for the long haul, who I may not see very often (or even at all) but who are always there thanks to the power of social media and some incredible shared experiences over the years. Every one of these friends who have come and gone or stayed have given inspiration to this writer who won’t give up because she has friends around her who understand, who support her and who, quite simply, won’t let her. You know who you are xxx