The one where I reflect on my lovely trip to London

I’ve been on a little road-trip (or train-trip to be precise) this weekend, down to London. As Joey from Friends would say: London baby!

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IMG_5952Sporting my brand new hair colour – time to go a bit lighter again in an effort to reduce the impact of that pesky white badger streak that insists on appearing after a few weeks – I caught the train down on Friday morning and returned on Sunday afternoon, feeling somewhat shattered, having had a very busy and very lovely weekend.

The purpose of the trip was to attend an RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) meeting on Saturday afternoon. I don’t normally go to the London-based events because it’s so expensive to get down to London from oop north, even when booked well in advance, but I had an added incentive this time. Sara-Jade Virtue, Special Sales Director and Brand Director at Simon & Schuster was the guest speaker and I was really keen to meet her.

IMG_5954You see, each year, on 15th July, S&S run an un-agented submissions day: #OneDay. Last year, I decided to submit but, because the MS had to be finished, I couldn’t submit my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. They were happy to accept previously-released works providing the author owned the rights, so I submitted the first chapter and synopsis of Bear With Me. I was thrilled, two weeks later, to be asked to submit the full MS. Woohoo! Bear With Me ended up being a pass but I had some amazing feedback about my writing and was encouraged to submit any other manuscripts outside of #OneDay so I submitted Wish… in December with fingers crossed and a little prayer.

I knew that the trip would be expensive, particularly when adding in hotel costs and meals, but I decided to go to the meeting to hear what Sara-Jade had to say and hopefully speak with her in person. I figured that, whilst meeting someone in person isn’t going to make them like my manuscript any more, it’s always great to have that personal contact. Even if Wish… is also a pass, I’d have more of a relationship than I would via email only.

dragon-253539_640The thing is, I’m not very good at networking. And by not very good, I mean terrible. I don’t have a problem talking to strangers. In my day job in HR, I’m a recruiter and trainer so I’m used to engaging strangers in conversation all the time but the big difference is that I’m the one they’re there to see so they need to talk back to me! When I’m not the “person in charge”, I have a huge problem in being the one to approach a stranger to to start a conversation. All sorts of worries and doubts fill me: Why would they even want to speak to me? What if I start talking and they walk off? What if they start yawning or looking at their watch? What if I turn into a jibbering mess, especially when I want to impress them? What if they turn into a dragon and start breathing fire on me? Okay, that last one might have been an exaggeration but the others are very real. Lots of people I know are terrified of public speaking and that’s how I feel about networking. Scary stuff. Even though I’d made the journey, I had a feeling I’d bottle it.

fear-2019930_640Sara-Jade gave us a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. I had no idea how many people and how many steps there in the process from reading a manuscript to getting (and keeping) a book out there. I was hanging on every single word and also to her responses to the many questions the group asked. I was quite proud of myself because I asked a question and got a detailed answer so, if I did bottle introducing myself, at least I’d drawn myself to Sara-Jade’s attention in some small way.

The good news is that I was brave and introduced myself afterwards. She didn’t ignore me, walk off or yawn and I didn’t make a mess of it. She was absolutely lovely, knew who I was, and said she’d be in touch in a few weeks’ time. She even followed this up with an email afterwards which absolutely made my day. A moment’s courage and all that …

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Before the meeting, I had a chance to meet two of my Write Romantic writing friends, Jo Bartlett and Jackie Ladbury. We met at Victoria and had the most amazing lunch in the Market Hall there. It’s like a food hall but with independent stalls rather than chain ones (or at least, if they were chains, I certainly wasn’t familiar with them) and it had a really relaxed atmosphere.

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Jo was unable to join us for the RNA meeting so Jackie and I caught the tube back to Tower Hill for the RNA meeting and met another Write Romantic, Helen Rolfe, for a drink first. The three of us then went out for a meal and drinks afterwards. We went to All Bar One and had the most amazing sharing platter and nachos although we were all starving and dived in so I didn’t get a picture of those!

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I have to say that it was a wonderful day from start to finish. One of the most valuable things I can ever do as a writer is to meet with other writers and talk about all things writing. It’s motivating, inspiring and incredibly helpful.

I’d decided to stay over on the Friday as well, giving me a chance to catch up with a university friend who lives in London so I had a chance to reminisce about our uni days and catch up on the latest news with him too. And I got to have a brief explore around a part of London I’ve never visited. I now want to visit The Tower of London for a proper explore and I’d like to walk across Tower Bridge too.

Wishing you a great week

Jessica xx

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Shadow(mancer)s of the recent past

The munchkin broke her collar bone on Tuesday. How? By bouncing up and down on the bed at my mum’s house, having a pillow fight, and falling off the bed. Durr. I was in Peterborough with work at the time, four hours away. Typical.

To reward her for being (reasonably) brave going to A&E and having an x-ray, I took her into town at lunchtime today to get her a little present. Hubby was going to the pub with our brother-in-law to watch a football match so we dropped him off and went for a mummy and munchkin lunch. Just as we reached the cafe and I stepped inside, a mournful voice cried, “Mummy, a seagull’s just pooed on me!” Poor little mite. I ushered her back out of said cafe, dug out a tissue and mopped her up as best as I could. They say it’s lucky. I don’t think she felt very lucky as the white and green slime dribbled down her fringe. And I certainly didn’t feel very lucky mopping it up!

But that’s not the point of this post so let me steer it towards that. The cafe we’d selected is called Taylors. It’s a cafe and book shop in Scarborough, North Yorkshire and is managed by two of local author GP Taylor’s daughters. Many people have had a part to play in my writing journey so far and GP Taylor is one of them so I like to visit his family’s cafe from time to time. Let me explain more …

P1050485When I first met hubby eleven years ago and shared my writing dreams with him, he asked me if I’d ever considered self publishing. I confess that, at the time (2003), I hadn’t heard of it. Having said that, I hadn’t really done any research into how I’d get my novel out there because it really was in the very early stages of an idea and a few poorly constructed chapters! He told me that a local Reverend-turned-writer, Graham Taylor, had self-published his debut novel, ‘Shadowmancer’, and hubby had picked up a first edition of it on a display in Waterstones in 2002. By 2003, it had picked up a publishing deal and, not long after, he also sold the film rights. Very exciting and impressive stuff!

A few years later (we’re thinking maybe 2008 but we’re getting old and our memories are fading!!!), hubby spotted an advert in the local paper for a creative writing course run by GP Taylor himself so I was straight on the phone to book my place and absolutely bursting with excitement.

There were about 25 on the five-week course, representing a huge mix of ages and genres. I remember going round the room doing some intros on that first session and being really disappointed that I was the only romance writer in the room. I’d hoped to find someone with similar interests and it looked like none of my fellow-attendees were interested in chick-lit. Yet it turned out that one person in the room was very interested: GP Taylor himself! He told me he’d teamed up with his assistant, Clare Connor, and was writing a chick-lit book. He was reading ‘Sushi for Beginners’ by Marian Keyes as research – a book I’d read myself – so we often chatted about this during workshops.

GP Taylor explained that his rationale for running the course was that he suspected there was a lot of undiscovered talent on the North Yorkshire Coast and he’d love to help develop some of that talent. Great reason. I hoped I’d fall into that category of ‘talent.’

P1050481The sessions were a good mix of information and interaction. Graham also set us homework tasks. He started by giving us a pencil drawing he’d found online and asked us to select one of the women then characterise her. He left it up to us how we’d do this. We handed these in and got them back next week. Graham was impressed with mine although he joked it came across a lot like a CV. I was working in recruitment at the time and couldn’t help myself!

Our next homework task was to write a creative piece showing the backstory of the character we’d developed and the final piece was to write a short story or start of a book. I’d chosen the woman in the foreground and named her Charlotte Evans. I’d been surprised not only at how easily her backstory came to my mind but that I’d written it in third person (my preference is first) and I’d set it after WWII when my work has always been set in the present-time. Despite all these changes to my ‘norm’, I loved writing my piece and actually felt sorry to stop at the first chapter as I felt there was a whole book in there.

P1050482Graham handed our work out towards the end of the final session. Before he did so, he said that the pieces had been read by him, his wife and his assistant and they were very impressed with the high standard and talent in the room. However, they were all in agreement that there was one piece of work that stood out above the others as something that could be published immediately. Excitement rippled round the room and I knew everyone would be thinking exactly the same as me: “I hope it’s mine!”

And it was mine! 

If I hadn’t been seated, I think my legs might have given way. That one comment absolutely made my day/week/month/year and made me believe I could really have a future as a writer.

P1050484The following year, Graham’s chick-lit book was out. ‘Rosie: Note to Self” was the first of a series of books. I believe that it’s either a re-telling of a bible story or inspired by Christian themes. GP Taylor and Claire Connor were doing a launch in WH Smith so I went along, bought a copy and got it signed. I wasn’t sure if Graham would remember me but he did and we joked that perhaps it would be me at that table signing my debut book in the not-too-distant future.

Fast-forward to today and I’m at the point in my writing journey where, spookily enough, I feel ready to follow GP Taylor’s footsteps and go indie with my debut series. I’ve visited Taylors a few times and have always hoped I’d bump into Graham and have an opportunity to talk some more about his writing. It didn’t enter my head that today might be the day it finally happened. There’s a room at the front with 4-5 tables, then you go through to a back room with 4-5 more, then up some stairs for 3 more tables and the book shop. Graham was relaxing in the corner seat by the stairs although he was deep in conversation with his companion so it would have been very rude to interrupt. Besides, I was a little flustered by the seagull-papping incident, so I ushered munchkin upstairs (as all the downstairs seats were taken). I wondered whether I should say something to him after I came back down and ordered my food. Would I be brave enough?

No. I lost my nerve.

It’s stupid really. There was my one opportunity to speak to a man who’d made me believe I could make it as a writer and tell him that I’ve written (or nearly written) three books since I met him in 2008 and that I’m going to launch all three in 2015. But I chickened out. I worried he wouldn’t recognise me or remember me as the chick-lit writer whose work he’d loved six years ago. 

The munchkin and I ate our lovely lunch then came downstairs. By this time, I’d psyched myself up but Graham had gone. Missed opportunity. So, Graham, if you do ever read this, I’d like to say thank you. You ran that creative writing course six or so years ago because you believed there was talent on the Yorkshire Coast that you wanted to help. Well, you helped me and one day perhaps you’ll read one of my novels and smile to yourself, knowing that you’ve been part of my journey.

Jessica

xxx