The one where 2020 has been quite extraordinary – and surprisingly full of highs

So, it’s finally arrived. The end of 2020. The year many people have wanted to “do one” for a long time.

It’s probably not a bold statement to say that it’s the strangest year that most of us will ever have experienced and, pretty please, can it be the last time we do?

But while this may be a completely bonkers surreal year that many will want to push to the back of their minds filed under ‘grim’, 2020 has been an amazing year for me professionally, seeing so many dreams come true. So, while there are many reasons why I want to send 2020 to the naughty step, I want to high-five it too.

This is a rundown, quarter by quarter, of what 2020 has looked like for me personally and professionally, presented in order of occurrence. When I originally wrote it, it was nearly a novel in itself so I have massively cut it down to highs and lows. Even so, it’s still long as so much has happened professionally this year. I honestly don’t know if anyone other than my mum or hubby will read it all but thank you if you do! xx

JANUARY to MARCH 2020

Happy New Year and the start of a new decade. How exciting! I eagerly anticipated the year ahead with a whopping seven Boldwood releases made up of six of my back catalogue and one new novel, and I hoped this would be the year I could leave my day job as an HR Tutor and write full-time.

Little did we know that reports of a flu-like illness in China were going to change our lives beyond all recognition.

HIGHS

  • Release of the entire re-edited ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series:
    • Making Wishes at Bay View (14th Jan)
    • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (20th Feb)
    • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (20th Feb)
    • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (12th Mar)
  • Seaside Blooms broke into the UK Kindle Top 1,000 on 19th March and kept climbing
  • Making Wishes at Bay View was selected as Apple’s free book of the week (9th – 15th March) propelling it to the top of the free Apple Books chart
  • A massive knock-on effect on the rest of the series with a #3 for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, #13 for Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and #24 for Coming Home to Seashell Cottage. They all made it into the Top 5 on the Romance category occupying positions #2, #3 and #5 at one point
  • Celebrating hubby’s 50th birthday with a meal with his parents just before going into a national lockdown
  • Normality for almost three months, regularly meeting up with Sharon Booth (great friend and super talented author) and attending the RNA’s Beverley Chapter meeting

LOWS

  • Saying goodbye in January to our beloved cat, Felix. After nearly 14 years with us, I was – and still am – heartbroken to have lost him
  • The munchkin, age 13, experienced a scary bullying incident on the bus home from school, so serious we needed to involve the police who classified it as an assault
  • Lockdown. I don’t think I need to expand on that! Although munchkin’s grumbles at being made to do the Joe Wicks PE session every weekday morning provided us with great amusement!

APRIL to JUNE 2020

This quarter started with a second month of panic-buying where household staples like toilet roll, pasta, cans of soup and flour were like gold dust. Hand sanitiser, paracetamol and disinfectant were also in short supply.

Zoom – something I personally had never even heard of until this year – became a life-saver for keeping in touch, as did social media (although you had to be careful not to be sucked down the rabbit hole of scary statistics and conspiracy theories!)

I’m going to swap it around for this month and start with the lows because they directly led to the highs in this quarter.  I will just remind you that these are presented in order of occurrence rather than severity.

LOWS

  • An unprecedented increase in work volumes as students took advantage of lockdown to race through their assignments. Enrolments of new students soared through the roof and, whilst financially amazing, the stress levels in trying to keep up were extraordinary. All without support or thanks from our manager

  • I couldn’t face celebrating my birthday and chose to largely ignore it 
  • My older brother turned 50 and couldn’t have the celebrations planned with his friends or family – a common story for so many this year
  • Cancellation of two theatre trips – a day trip to Leeds to see Sister Act and a weekend away to see Six
  • Family holiday to Portugal over May half-term cancelled
  • The unexpected and sudden loss of our brother-in-law, aged only 50. RIP, Richard, with love xx

HIGHS

  • Resigning from the day job and becoming a full-time writer from 8th June. It had always been my dream to be able to earn enough to be able to write full-time and it had finally happened. The increased income would give me a give me a buffer while my writing royalties (hopefully) increased from my new releases
  • Apple asked if they could repeat the UK promotion in the USA. Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #16 in the free chart and the series sold well on the back of this
  • Amazon selected New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms for a Prime deal. It was already inside the Top 100 by then but it peaked at #14 on 17th May thanks to being in Prime
  • People were turning to books for escapism, comfort and boredom relief. Uplifting stories of love and friendship – exactly what I write – fit the bill perfectly and this was reflected in my sales
  • Receiving messages from readers who’d binge read my Boldwood releases and the rest of my indie back catalogue and wanted to thank me for giving them such an uplift and welcome escape. Wow! I certainly hadn’t been expecting that
  • During the summer, Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #144, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove to #145 and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage to #165. I’d never experienced chart positions like this. I’d barely hoped to dream of them and kept waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it was a dream
  • How proud the munchkin made us. She moaned about Joe Wicks but not about studying and, with only a few nudges to ask her teachers for more work when she’d run out, she showed amazing maturity, never once moaning about being in lockdown and missing her friends

JULY to SEPTEMBER 2020

Restrictions had lifted in the UK but I pretty much remained a hermit. It’s not so much that I was afraid to go out but more that there seemed no point taking the risk. Being substantially overweight I am in a higher risk category and, with so many holiday-makers flocking to the coast, I felt my local town and beach were no-go areas. I managed a few local walks with the dog, hubby and munchkin – and even did an evening walk along the main seafront before the holidays hit – but that was about it. And my bottom has just expanded and expanded as a result!

HIGHS

  • The first book in a series set in a hedgehog rescue centre – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – was released on 2ndJuly. I was a little bit nervous about it as it was a new setting for me but the hedgehogs captured the hearts of readers
  • An impressive number of pre-orders meant an astonishing UK Kindle chart position of #291 on publication day, peaking at #86 in mid-August. My second Top 100 book. Yay! It made it to #40 in Canada and #11 in Australia
  • The Secret to Happiness appeared in branches of The Works. I chatted to the staff and took photos but I never thought to ask if they’d like me to sign copies. Muppet. Missed opportunity!
  • Boldwood celebrated one year since their first release. What an amazing first year of trading they’d had. We were invited to a summer moment on Zoom to celebrate which was pretty special
  • Release of the re-edited Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (13th Aug). Initially it was free and reached #8 in the free UK Kindle chart, #43 in Australia, #20 in Canada and #15 in the USA
  • Release of the re-edited Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. An impressive number of pre-orders saw an amazing release day chart position of #204
  • Met my parents outdoors on a couple of occasions
  • Sharon and I also managed one meeting but not for as long as usual. It was brilliant to be able to meet in person but the time went far too quickly
  • The munchkin returned to school and started three years of study towards her GCSEs. One of the bus bullies apologised (I think lockdown gave her plenty of thinking time), a truce has been reached and there’ve thankfully been no further incidents
  • Hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a mid-week visit to Thorp Perrow Arboretum. It was a gorgeous day and there were very few people around so it was the perfect place to go. And, being only a short drive away from my parents, we stopped off at theirs for a socially distanced cuppa before coming home
  • The Works stocked another book – Making Wishes at Bay View – and this time I signed them. Proud author moment!
  • I was astonished and thrilled to be offered another contract with Boldwood for a whopping 12 brand new books. I nearly fell off my chair! The first book in that contract will be a brand new Christmas story in September 2021. Before that, there’ll be four more books released in January, March, May and August to see out the original contract: books 2 and 3 in the Hedgehog Hollow series (January/May) and the remaining two in my back catalogue (March/August)

LOWS

  • After only a week back at school, unable to see properly with her mask on, the munchkin tripped over a raised drain cover, went splat, landed awkwardly and broke her arm. Cue scary dash up to school and a trip to A&E to get a pot put on
  • She later fell down the stairs at school, also struggling to see properly in her mask, and made a right mess of both of her shins, scraping the skin off and badly bruising them both. The good news was she didn’t break her arm again!
  • The increased attention on me and my books massively exacerbated my imposter syndrome and I struggled to feel worthy of the amazing things happening to me. Writing a week-long series of posts about what this meant and how it manifested itself did me the world of good and I have been able to continue to make great inroads in quietening my ‘you’re not good enough’ demons since then, although I don’t think they’ll ever completely disappear and I’ve still had the occasional moment

OCTOBER to DECEMBER 2020

Now with the country in tiers, each tier dictating a specific set of rules, it seemed there was no end in sight. Another lockdown. Then came a ray of hope: a vaccination had been approved and would be rolled out imminently. Hurrah!

As Christmas approached, with a new strain of the virus spreading at an alarming rate, Christmas plans changed for many.

HIGHS

  • All ten books sported an orange Amazon #1 Best Seller tag at the same time. TEN! Wow! What a special moment that was! (13th Oct)
  • A socially distanced Hallowe’en BBQ at my parents’ house. A BBQ in late October in this country was certainly a first but a big brolly kept the rain off and the patio heater worked its magic!
  • The Works wanted another of my books and squeezed in an order of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I managed to see it in my local branch – and sign the copies as well as another batch of Making Wishes at Bay View – before going into the second lockdown
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – no longer available for free – became my third book to get inside the Top 100, reaching #93 on 1st November. It only stayed inside the Top 100 for two days but that doesn’t matter. It still made it which, considering how many thousands of free copies it shifted, I wasn’t expecting
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café broke the Top 100 too, peaking at #24 in the UK, #11 in Canada and an astonishing #3 in Australia. Woo hoo! With the exception of one day, it stuck around in the Top 100 right until Christmas Eve. I was a bit gutted it didn’t stay in the Top 100 for Christmas but over a month in the Top 100 wasn’t too shabby!
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes achieved 1,000 reviews/ratings. At the start of the year, none of my books had more than 100 reviews. Today, it has hit 1,600. Still can’t quite believe it! (16th Nov)
  • The Secret to Happiness went on a BookBub deal – the only of my books to have done this – and it got to #32 in the USA in mid-November. That market is enormous and I certainly never expected that!
  • Guest speaker slots on a Facebook Live with Kim The Bookworm and with Exeter Libraries
  • Part of a Boldwood Christmas books panel on My VLF (My Virtual Literature Festival) which was great fun
  • Interviewed by a reader, Liz Clifton, about confidence and motivation
  • Guest on Julie Morris’s blog – A Little Bookish Problem – twice
  • The Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series continued to perform well and, in mid-December, all of them passed 500 reviews/ratings on Amazon

LOWS

  • Cancellation of my graduation ceremony after achieving my Masters in Creative Writing through Open University in late 2019
  • Cancellation of our October half-term holiday to Lancaster (to give us access to Blackpool and the Lake District) as Lancaster was in tier 3 so we (in tier 2 at the time) couldn’t travel there
  • Not able to see my side of the family over Christmas or my husband’s sisters
  • The tragic news that my second cousin died just before Christmas. Aged only 42, my heart is broken for his mum (my cousin) and her family and for another lovely man taken far too soon. RIP, Gary, with love xx


AND TO CLOSE…

Whether you’ve read the Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities or not, you probably know the beginning: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” And that pretty much sums up my 2020.

For the best of times, I have achieved my dream of writing full-time, I am fortunate enough to work with the most incredible publisher with a wonderful team who support and respect all their authors as well as making us all feel equally important. Through Boldwood, I’ve had four books inside the Kindle UK Top 100 and Apple Top 100 this year, a Top 3 in Australia and Top 40 in the USA. All of my books have sported bestseller tags at the same time. Every book Boldwood has released has passed 500 reviews/ratings with one exceeding 1,600 and another marching towards 1,000. Quite honestly, it has been phenomenal.

But for the worst of times, I’ve lost my brother in law, a second cousin, and our gorgeous cat, and my daughter was assaulted. The disappointment of birthdays, holidays, theatre trips, weekends away and a graduation ceremony all cancelled pales into insignificance when faced with such loss and sadness.

I haven’t seen my brothers or their families since last Christmas although we did a regular family Zoom across the first lockdown. Hubby and I have never had much of a social life – we’re home bunnies and only have a few friends in the area – but we do miss being able to meet up with the small number of people we know and, as writing tends to be a lonely business, I’ve really missed my fortnightly meet-ups with Sharon.

I send my love and best wishes to my family affected by loss, and to anyone else for whom this year has been particularly tough whether that be through illness, bereavement, employment (or lack of it), finances, loneliness or any of the many other challenges that may have been faced.

My eternal gratitude goes to Boldwood Books and, in particular my editor, Nia, for making my dreams come true and being such a joy to work with. And thanks to my fellow Boldwood authors for all the support you’ve given and any reviews/promotions of my work.

Thank you to all the book bloggers/reviewers who’ve been so kind this year and to Rachel Gilbey for organising my blog tours.

I can’t thank enough all the amazing readers who’ve bought, borrowed, downloaded, and/or streamed any or all of my books. Thank you for choosing to take a journey to Whitsborough Bay and/or Hedgehog Hollow and for all the lovely messages on social media. You give me the encouragement to keep making stuff up!

To Sharon and my fellow-Write Romantic family, you’re my writing rocks and I couldn’t imagine how I’d have navigated my way through the troubled world of publishing without you all. It’s been lovely having such good virtual friends supporting each other in this difficult year. And to the Beverley chapter, I’ve loved our catch-ups.

Thank you to new writing friends I’ve made this year – Sam Tonge, Vicky Walters, Kim Nash and many others who’ve supported or promoted my work and whose books I’ve enjoyed reading. I hope we can meet in person next year.

And finally, to my biggest fan – my mum – my amazing husband and our wonderful daughter, thank you for all your excitement and encouragement. It really does keep me going. I know my dad is also super proud so thank you daddy bear too.

For anyone out there with a dream, chase it. Because dreams really do come true and I’m living, breathing proof of that.

When I finish writing a book, I love typing ‘The End’. Despite all the amazing things that have happened for me this year, I am relieved to stamp ‘The End’ on 2020 and look ahead to exciting writing achievements and some sort of normality in 2021.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Christmas was different but hubby excelled himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was Christmas for you? Hope it went okay.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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

What’s on my wall? (Part 5) Monday Motivation

Happy Birthday AliceWelcome to another #MondayMotivation ‘What’s on my wall?’ post, showing some of the quotes and pictures in my office that inspire my writing.

Today I have two canvases (prints) because they’re by the same artist and they inspire me in the same way so it makes sense to talk about them together. They’re by Staffordshire-born artist and card designer Peter Adderley who is now based in North Devon.

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My collection – if you can call two prints a collection – started with the smaller lighthouse picture which is captioned ‘A Close Shave’ according to an art gallery but ‘Lighthouse’ according to other sources. So not really sure which is correct! Lighthouse certainly says what it is, though!

We live a few miles from a farm called Redcliffe Farm where there’s a farm shop, cafe and gift shop called Carbis. I spotted this in Carbis and fell in love with it immediately as it had a red and white striped lighthouse like the one in my Whitsborough Bay stories (although mine isn’t in the middle of the sea like this one).

The person who served me in Carbis told me that Peter’s seascapes always include a cat and a dog, sometimes prominently, sometimes less visible. Can you spot them? The cat’s a little more challenging on the photo (answer at the bottom of the page). I haven’t been able to find anything online to confirm whether this animal detail is true but I hope it is as that’s a lovely idea.

When I refurbished my office last year, I decided I had the perfect space on the wall for another of Peter’s prints so returned to return to Carbis to get another. They were struggling to get hold of Peter’s prints and only had one picture left which was about three times the size of my first one so it wasn’t an option and I returned home empty-handed.

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I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though, and ended up re-arranging the whole wall just to fit in this gorgeous harbour scene. The colourful houses very much remind me of Whitsborough Bay’s Old Town. I’m afraid I don’t know what this one is called. It doesn’t say it on the print and I can’t find the answer online. If the smaller one is ‘Lighthouse’, I’d imagine this is probably ‘Harbour’!

You shouldn’t have too much difficulty spotting the cat and dog on this one as they’re very prominent in the foreground. But can you see the second cat?

These two canvases sit to the side of my desk but I often turn to gaze at them. They’re so colourful and calming and transport me immediately into my fictional seaside world.

Hope you have an inspiring week, whatever you have planned.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

Where to find the cat and dog:

Lighthouse – dog on the boat, cat on the lighthouse on the railings around the light

Harbour – dog chasing cat in foreground, but there’s also a cat on the railings on the front of the red boat in the harbour

 

The one where I’m heartbroken

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

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

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

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

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Pixie, Felix’s Sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A few hours before goodbye

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

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

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

Coming home with an empty cat carrier felt wrong.

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

Everything felt wrong. Everything feels wrong.

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“Feed me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The one where it’s Bonfire Night

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Image by lumpi from Pixabay 

As a child, one of my favourite events on the calendar was always Bonfire Night. I was brought up on a 1960s/1970s housing estate, popular with young families. We were surrounded by a farmer’s fields and, because he didn’t tend to plant crops right up to the end of the street, the residents were permitted to build a bonfire on the wasteland each year.

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Image by Benjamin Nelan from Pixabay 

All the local kids would gather wood from the neighbours and gradually build the bonfire over the space of a few days. There probably was adult supervision but I don’t specifically remember that; I just remember the fun of collecting the firewood and building.

There’d always be a Guy although I have no idea who created him; I seem to remember him just appearing. Again, there must have been an adult involved. Then, on Bonfire Night itself, the residents of our street and the next would gather around the bonfire and watch it burn.

There was something so magical about standing there, bundled up for warmth, listening to the crackle, feeling the heat on my face and watching the sparks drift into the night sky. I adored the smell. It’s still one of my favourite smells today. Somebody would hand around sparklers and the children would write their names in the air.

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Image by christels from Pixabay 

The people who lived at the bottom of the street had a double garage and I remember them having families back there for jacket potatoes and hot dogs. I think of this as an annual tradition but it might have only been once or twice they did it. It’s funny how selective the memory can be.

One year, I’d been to Brownies the night before Bonfire Night and, as the car pulled down our street to take me home afterwards, my heart sank at the sight of orange and yellow flames licking into the air. Yes, some local kids had decided it would be fun to burn it down a day early. I cried, thinking Bonfire Night was ruined, but the neighbours rallied and we built another one the next day, even bigger than the original. Looking back now, I’m amazed it was only burned down early the once. These days, there’d be no chance of building a bonfire and having it survive overnight.

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Image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay 

I remember horror stories of chidden going to sleep in bonfires to protect them from an early lighting and being burned or even killed. What an absolute tragedy.

I don’t particularly remember having fireworks – just sparklers – at the neighbourhood display, but I do remember sometimes having fireworks in our back garden at home.

There was a big town bonfire at the playing fields at our local swimming baths. I seem to remember going there a few times too. I have a feeling that, when I was in my teens, the farmer started using the field so we couldn’t hold our local bonfire anymore.

When I went to Loughborough University, there’d be a big bonfire each year on the field outside my Halls of Residence although, weirdly, the only year I definitely remember going was on my year out when I came back and visited a friend.

After graduating, I lived in Birmingham. There was a huge bonfire and fair held each year on one Saturday in the north and the next in the south. I went there a couple of times too although the crowds were a bit too big for my liking.

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Then it stopped. I suppose I thought of going to a bonfire/fireworks display as being very much a family thing and I didn’t have a family so I had years where I missed out.

Now I have a family, we don’t do something every year but we’ve been down to the beach a couple of times. People have little bonfires lit and there are fireworks and sparklers. We had great fun five years ago when we went down to Scarborough’s South Bay and hubby experimented with slow shutter speeds on his camera, taking pictures of the munchkin and me writing our names, and of us being ‘ghosts’ on the beach.

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About a twenty minute walk down the road from us, McCain’s training centre play host to a bonfire and fireworks display each year. We’ve been to that a few times including this evening but, unfortunately, it was just fireworks this year because they’re doing a major factory expansion and there are building works on so there wasn’t the room for a bonfire.

The fireworks display was amazing (massive thanks to the organisers) although we’d messed up on the time somehow and thought it was starting 45 minutes earlier than it did so were very cold by the time the display actually started. Brr. About halfway through the display, it started raining and it was driving straight at us, making it a tad difficult to see the fireworks!

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The rain came down very heavy on the way home but I’ve been home about forty minutes now and have finally warmed through. The munchkin has had a bath and has a hot chocolate so she’s happy and toasty too.

We have a dog and a cat and they’re thankfully not too bothered about the bangs. Felix (the cat) doesn’t love loud noises so will usually find somewhere to hide in the house like behind the sofa, but he’s quite calm about it as that’s his happy space. Ella isn’t bothered at all. She might bark a bit, but she’s generally pretty chilled. I do really feel for the pets who get very anxious, especially when fireworks are set off outside of celebration nights like Bonfire Night, NYE and Diwali and therefore owners can’t be prepared for them. We live in quite a quiet area and I haven’t hears many fireworks this year before today. There were a few last night but not particular loud ones but, again, I know some people live in areas where setting them off is rife and my heart goes out to them.

What are your views on Bonfire Night? Do you have some fond memories of it from childhood or from more recently? And do you love or hate fireworks? Would love to hear from you.

Jessica xx