The one where I look back at July

The end of July has been and gone, signalling that we’re halfway through the year already. Eek! That means we’re on the slope towards Christmas now, which is a bit scary.

So how was my July? Busy. Very busy.

thumbnail-4On 19th July, I was excited to reveal the cover for my new book, The Secret to Happiness, as part of me being Boldwood’s Author of the Day. The novel will be released on 3rd September but is available for pre-order on Kindle, for the bargain price of £1, right here. For any bloggers/reviewers, it’s also available on NetGalley.

Speaking of NetGalley, I went from excitement to disappointment a few days later when my first NetGalley review came through and it wasn’t good. With only a 2-star rating, the feedback was a little strange as the reviewer said she’d really enjoyed the main character’s story but, because it wasn’t the light summer read she was hoping for, she rated it a 2. I won’t even begin to try and understand the logic behind that. Yes, the cover is summery but the blurb doesn’t suggest light and fluffy. I know I have to be prepared for bad reviews but, because it was the first, this one really upset me. Thankfully the second one, a few days later, was 5-star and stated: “I loved this book … Overall brilliant writing, loved the plot, characters were well developed…” Phew!

Blue LogoMy good friend, author Sharon Booth, came through to Scarborough for a day and we loitered with intent in a couple of different coffee shops, having a good old writerly chat, which is always a fabulous way to while away the hours. We came to a difficult decision, though, to cease being ‘The Yorkshire Rose Writers’. Last year, we joined forces under this brand as we both live in Yorkshire, write about Yorkshire, and love Yorkshire. We thought this would be a great way to promote Sharon to my readers and vice versa, as well as have a stronger online presence. We put a huge time commitment in to blog, tweet, insta (is that a word?) and update content on the Facebook page, especially Sharon who is much better at these things than me, but we found it didn’t engage with any new readers as hoped. We also decided that, whilst we love Yorkshire, this is not our brand; our brand is us as individuals and as friends together. We therefore have a new idea that is in early stages of development but will be a little different. The blog has been deactivated and the social media activities have ceased with accounts deactivating shortly. It was short and sweet but these things are always worth a try. We’d probably have continued on Facebook but the imminent changes from pages to groups make us lose the will to live when it comes to that format so bye bye to The Yorkshire Rose Writers and thank you to those who did support our little venture.

During July, I completed a round of edits on book 11 and that’s now with my beta readers for comment. Early indications are good with one of them saying she’s struggling to put it down. I’m not sure whether Boldwood will take this one or not but it was about two thirds complete at the time I signed my publishing deal so there was no point in not finishing it.

My plan was to make some progress with book 12 and 13 but that hasn’t quite happened because I had my penultimate Masters submission due which took more time than I’d anticipated. It was a commentary about the process behind the final submission and the learnings we’ve had so far and I’ve struggled to score highly on these so far. I’ve just had the score through, though, and have achieved a distinction with 90% which is a relief. This puts my Year 2 work at 88% which is a distinction overall (distinction is 85% and above) so I’m thrilled about that. However, to come out with a distinction as my final grade, I have to score 85% or more on the final submission. I’ve done well on my fiction pieces so far, typically scoring in the 90s, but this is a much bigger piece. Fingers crossed.

IMG_6650Outside of writing, I had a short break in The Lake District with hubby, daughter and Ella, our Sprocker Spaniel. It didn’t go as planned. I managed to break my tooth about an hour into the journey eating a toffee. Oops! Thankfully it doesn’t hurt as it was a crown that I’ve snapped off a couple of times before … also by eating toffees. You’d think I’d have learned by now! I don’t think the dentist will be able to rebuild it again this time so I’ll see what he suggests next week.

The broken tooth was probably a bad omen for things to come. Our journey was horrendous. What would normally take about four hours took six including a patch of stationary traffic. We took a detour to get around that but then missed our planned lunch stop and ended up having lunch at teatime instead. The cottage wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for and it was in the middle of nowhere which we hadn’t expected either. Then the weather was poor, with torrential rain one day and storms forecast for our final day. We decided to come home a day early to sleep on a comfortable bed and to go out around home where the weather wasn’t expected to be so bad.

So, on Tuesday we visited a place called Ravenscar on the coast between Scarborough IMG_6732and Robin Hood’s Bay to see the seals. A year or two ago, we did attempt to see the seals but took the wrong path and still ended up on a cliff top with no way down to the beach, so we did the sensible thing and asked this time. The seals were sooooo adorable. The walk is very steep, though, and the journey back up was certainly hard work. I swear I’d shed about two stone in sweat but the scales laughed at me and told me otherwise!

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I went to the cinema just before our mini-break to see ‘Yesterday’. I’d seen the trailer on Facebook some time back and was really keen to see it, although I hadn’t realised at the time that it was a Richard Curtis film. We don’t have a decent cinema in Scarborough but the theatre does show some films so the munchkin so I went to see it there and thoroughly enjoyed it. You do need to suspend a bit of disbelief here and there and just take it for what it is which is a sweet, funny story with lots of Beatles songs.

My final bit of news is that the munchkin got her ears pierced last week (she’s 12) so that they have time to heal over the summer break. I’ve had mine done since I was 13 but I’ve always fancied having the top of my ear – my helix – pierced so I booked in for me to have that done at the same time. Ouch! My goodness, does that hurt! I’ve tried taking a photo but it’s just a stud and it barely shows so I will wait until the 12-week healing period has passed and I can put a pretty earring in it instead.

That’s my round-up of July. I’ve decided that my round-up posts are too long so I’m going to try to blog more frequently but with much shorter posts. Hmm. We’ll see how that goes. Still, the intention of the round-ups was to get me into blogging more regularly again and it has achieved that.

Wishing you a fabulous August.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I reveal my beautiful new cover

I am so excited to be able to reveal the gorgeous cover for The Secret to Happiness. Isn’t it pretty? A massive thanks and big hug to the team at Boldwood Books for everything about it from the title to the tagline to the artwork.

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The fictional North Yorkshire coastal setting of Whitsborough Bay is modelled predominantly on my hometown of Scarborough (with nods to a couple of the other coastal resorts). It’s therefore wonderful to see the actual beach huts from Scarborough’s North Bay on the cover.

Jessica and Beach Huts 2015
Me outside the beach huts which are just around the corner from the ones on my front cover, holding my very first paperback. You can see the grass around them

The beach huts in Scarborough’s North Bay, painted bright red, yellow, orange, lime-green and sky-blue, really stand out and they feature in all of my Whitsborough Bay books. The ones on the cover are at the top of a hill and have grass in front of them but grass doesn’t shout ‘seaside’ does it? The designer therefore took the sand right up to the huts and the cover looks much better for it.

3. Beach Huts
This is the front row of beach huts on Scarborough’s North Bay

In the background you can just see Scarborough Castle, which is Whitsborough Bay Castle in my books.

North Bay view of Castle

Whenever I say to someone that I live in Scarborough, they often smile and say “I used to love going there as a kid”. It has such fond memories for so many people and I’m very proud to have called it my home for the past 15 years. Such an inspiring setting for my stories.

If you’d like to grab yourself an eBook pre-order on Kindle, it’s only £1. What a bargain! Here’s the link.

And here’s the blurb to whet your appetite…

Everyone deserves a chance at happiness…

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

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

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

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

An uplifting story of friendship and finding the strength to come to terms with the past. Perfect for fans of Tilly Tennant and Cathy Bramley.

 

Have a lovely weekend.

Jessica xx

Sharon Booth is my very first guest. Eek!

Welcome along to my very first guest slot! I’m very excited to welcome my good writing friend, Sharon Booth. I met Sharon about two years ago after my writing friend, Alys, connected with her on Twitter. We’ve met up regularly to eat cake and talk about all things writing-related. We invited her to join The Write Romantics last year and have been very excited to be part of her writing journey.

It’s been two months since she released her debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ so it seemed like a great time to invite her onto the blog and explore what’s been going on since her launch, and a whole lot more.

Over to Sharon …

Thank you very much for having me as the first guest on your blog, Jessica. I’m honoured to be here!

picture of mag for Jessica's blogIt’s been two months since There Must Be An Angel was launched. What’s happened during that time?

Quite a lot! I’ve been very lucky to attract some really positive reviews, which have boosted my confidence and made it all worthwhile. I’ve had messages posted on my Facebook wall, and my writer’s page, from people thanking me for writing the book and telling me how much they loved it. I really wasn’t expecting total strangers to go to all that trouble. It’s amazing. My work colleagues have been really supportive, buying the book and talking about it in the office, and one of the bosses is always asking how it’s going and congratulating me. My mother actually said she was proud of me. I never thought I’d hear her say that! I had a mention in the food and drink supplement of the May edition of Yorkshire Life, as there was a feature about Art of Mallow, the gourmet marshmallow company who inspired me when I was writing Angel. I’d got in touch with the owner, Philippa Quayle, and asked if she minded me mentioning that her company was the inspiration for Eliza’s mallow-making venture, and she was lovely. She even donated bags of marshmallows as prizes for my Facebook launch party, and then she talked about Angel in her feature for Yorkshire Life. I gave Angel away for free for five days and over seven hundred copies were downloaded in that time. Since publication day, I’ve been getting the second Kearton Bay novel, A Kiss from a Rose, ready for editing, written a novella, and started work on book three in the series.

What’s the nicest thing that anyone has said about Angel?

I’ve been very lucky, as I’ve only heard nice things about it! I’ve had people say that it made them want to visit the area that Angel is set in, as I’d really brought the place to life in their imaginations, which is lovely. People have said that the characters and dialogue are realistic and that they really warmed to Eliza and were rooting for her. One said she wanted to climb into the pages of the book and punch Harry! Another said I’d gone straight on her list of favourite authors. I’ve been really touched and surprised by how involved people have got in the story. It’s a wonderful feeling. I have to say, though, that the nicest thing was said by my daughter. She doesn’t read books as she always insists she just can’t get into them and can’t concentrate long enough. She read Angel from cover to cover in less than a day, and was so full of enthusiasm about it afterwards, wanting to know more about the characters and what was going to happen next, that it made me quite tearful!

Angel cover for Jessica's blogWhat’s been the most unexpected or challenging thing to happen since the launch?

Waiting for the first reviews was absolutely terrifying. I was so scared that people would hate it. I also got quite obsessed with sales and Amazon rankings. I quickly got over all that, though. There’s no point worrying about it, as the book can be riding high one day and plummeting the next. Besides, I never expected to sell a lot of books first time out. I’m in this for the long haul. It’s quite a shock to learn that, just because you’ve had a book published, the world doesn’t change. When you’re dreaming of seeing your book in print, you think it will be the biggest thing to ever happen to you. It’s surprising how quickly you realise that life goes on and not many people really know or care that you’re a published author. You still have to go to work and trail round the shops for something for dinner. No lounging on a chaise longue, eating luxury chocolates, dictating the next book to a willing secretary, after all.

Do you tell people you’re an author or do you, like so many writers out there, struggle to admit that you write?

I never say I’m an author, though we had a new lady start at work and she asked me what I would be doing at the weekend and I replied, as usual, working. She asked me where I worked at the weekends and one of our colleagues called, ‘She’ll be writing. Sharon’s an author!’ I went very red, I can tell you. I still feel uncomfortable saying I’m a writer. I don’t know why.

rhb for jessica's blogYou describe Kearton Bay beautifully. It’s a fictional version of North Yorkshire’s Robin Hood’s Bay. Would you like to live there?

Kearton Bay or Robin Hood’s Bay? I love the inhabitants of Kearton Bay and would absolutely love to live there in an ideal world. I don’t actually know anyone in Robin Hood’s Bay, although I have joined some Bay Facebook groups and one of the residents very kindly gave me permission to use his wonderful photographs of the village, which I’ve shared on Pinterest. I’ve visited Robin Hood’s Bay several times now, and it’s stunningly beautiful, and absolutely full of character. However, it’s packed with tourists in peak season and I’m not sure I could cope with that! It’s also extremely hilly, and, with my dodgy knees, it’s quite challenging. The area is gorgeous, though, and there are several coastal villages that aren’t as busy as RHB that would make a more comfortable alternative. Maybe if I win the lottery…
How did you come up with the idea for Angel?

I wanted to write about a woman who was forced out of her comfort zone. Someone who’d been sleep-walking through her life, accepting second best for so long that she’d stopped noticing, until she was jolted awake and made to look at the reality. I wanted to know how she would cope. Would she sink or swim? How would she deal with starting again? How would she manage if she had to leave behind her home and family, and everything that was comfortable, to go to a strange place, and meet new people? Would she be thrown into panic? Or would she find a strength she never knew she had, and rebuild her life? The book centres on Eliza’s search for her father, but, initially, Eliza went to Kearton Bay for a different reason entirely. As the theme of fathers and daughters grew, with Harry and Amy’s failing relationship, and the strength of the bond between Gabriel and Lexi, I began to realise that what was missing was Eliza’s own relationship with her father. So I rewrote the beginning and the book quickly took shape from there. In searching for her father, Eliza is also searching for herself, trying to discover who she really is and what she wants from her life. Of course, being me, I saw the funny side of things, too, so, although there’s a bit of soul-searching and some sadness, there’s a lot of laughter and a good sprinkling of humour to ease Eliza’s journey.

Angel contains a wonderful cast of characters. Who would you snog, marry, avoid?

What a fabulous question! It’s very tricky, though, as I think my answers would be different if you were talking about the characters across the whole series. I’ll stick to the characters who feature in Angel. I’d snog Will because he’s kind, sweet, a really, really good kisser, and I’m terribly fond of him. He’s got a lot of growing up to do, but by the end of the series he’ll be a serious contender for marriage. I’d avoid Harry, because, in spite of his twinkling eyes and good looks he’s an absolute rogue and best kept away from. I’d probably marry Gabriel, because he’s gorgeous, sincere, decent, and has a passionate streak behind that cool façade. Ask me again when the series ends and you’ll probably find I’ve chosen to marry someone else, because, although I’m a little bit in love with all my heroes, one of them is extra special to me…

If you could be best friends with any of the female characters, who would it be and why?

I have to admit, I love all my female characters and could happily be friends with any of them. Well, perhaps not Melody Bird or the awful Michelle…Eliza is a girl after my own heart, especially with her love for Maltesers and her complete inability to iron clothes. Rose is down-to-earth, funny and warm-hearted, and you know exactly where you stand with her. Lexi is lovely but she’s too young for me, and is far too leggy and gorgeous to be around, without losing what little confidence I have left. Sophie is kind, but a bit interfering, and always thinks she knows best. Then there’s Rhiannon, who is certainly interesting and very good with the advice. Although I’d have to watch her around my husband…Hmm, maybe not, then. I’ll go with Rose, because she’s good for a laugh, but always on your side and great with practical advice as well as tea and sympathy.

Harry presents a property programme. What’s your favourite property programme and why?

I watch loads of property programmes. I have a guilty addiction to Escape to the Country because of the locations of the houses, but I have to confess to getting a bit irritated by the constant whines of “Oh, the kitchen’s a bit small” when it’s the size of my entire house! I’ve been watching a lot of Country House Rescue for research purposes lately, and find that strangely addictive. I’m not sure it counts as a property programme, though? I loved the Sarah Beeny programme, Restoration Nightmare, as Rise Hall is only a few miles from where I live, and I really like Sarah’s presenting style and admire what she’s done to the house. I also love A Place in the Sun: Home or Away. I always root for the UK location, and my heart always sinks when I see how fabulous the houses abroad are! I probably like Location, Location, Location best, mainly because Phil and Kirstie’s relationship is so funny and they’re both so likeable. Also, the budgets are a bit more realistic in a lot of cases.

Rose for Jessica's blogAngel is the first book in a series. What else can we expect, and when?

You can expect three more books. The second in the series, A Kiss from a Rose, will be out in September. Here’s the blurb:

In spite of managing to get a black eye at her best friend’s wedding, Rose MacLean knows she’s never had it so good.

As a partner in a thriving business, her financial problems are easing, and her eldest daughter has finally found employment, while her youngest is doing well at school.

But Rose’s life never seems to run smoothly for long, and, sure enough, her eldest daughter has soon walked out of her job, while her youngest appears to have had a personality transplant. To make matters worse, her mother is back on the scene, and she seems to be reliving her misspent youth with her oily-haired, horse-faced ex, Alec Thoroughgood.

With her best friend preoccupied with the arduous task of baby-making, Rose finds herself relying more and more on the quiet Flynn Pennington-Rhys, who seems to be everyone’s hero. But Flynn has his own problems, and as events take an unexpected turn, Rose realises that she may not always be able to rely on him.

Will the quiet man come through for her? Will her daughters ever sort themselves out? And will Rose ever get her bedroom back from her mother, or is she destined for a life on the sofa?

I’m hoping that the third and fourth books will be out next year. There will be lots of excitement ahead for some familiar characters, some new characters will arrive at Kearton Bay, stirring passions and causing mayhem, and there’ll be weddings, births, village events, surprising relationships, redemption, a legend, a mystery, and just a touch of magic!

You can see pictures of Robin Hood’s Bay, the inspiration for Kearton Bay, and other things which inspired Sharon while writing There Must Be An Angel here:

https://uk.pinterest.com/sharonbooth1/there-must-be-an-angel/

Find out more about Sharon at http://sharonbooth.co.uk/

Follow her on Twitter as @Sharon_Booth1

Or like her Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/sharonbooth.writer

Working on one novel at a time? Pah! Let’s go for three and a novella!

When I set up my writing blog, my intention was to post at least once a week, preferably twice. I’m lucky if I manage twice a month at the moment. I do have a good excuse for the lack of posts, but I’ll come onto that shortly.

P1050559My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, is currently posting on her writing blog on a daily basis (every day except Sunday) and it puts me to shame. However, there’s also a good reason for this. You see, Sharon is taking part in the A-Z Blogging Challenge where bloggers blog every day (except Sundays) for a month, working their way through the alphabet in order. When Sharon first mentioned that she was going to do this, my first reaction was that it was a crazy idea. Where on earth would you get the time and inspiration from in order to generate posts for each letter of the alphabet? Sharon’s debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ (click on the link to buy it) had just been released, and she saw this as a great opportunity to promote aspects of her novel. What a great idea! Suddenly the A-Z Challenge made sense to me, so much so that I worked out my own alphabet of posts linked to the launch of ‘Searching for Steven’. Sharon had participated in the A-Z Challenge in the month following her launch, but I was going to do mine in the month leading up to the launch of mine. I was quite excited about it.

P1030956Thankfully I got no further than the list of potential posts because I’d completely misunderstood one vital aspect of this Challenge: it was a National Challenge for the month of April and bloggers signed up to it in the same way that writers would sign up to NaNoWriMo for the month of November. Oops! So I’ll hang onto my list of ideas and perhaps sign up to next year’s A-Z Challenge in the run-up to the launch of book 2 instead!

I’m also relieved that I no longer plan to do my own A-Z Challenge in May because, quite honestly, I don’t know when I’d have time to prepare the posts in-between working on three novels and one novella. Surely that’s more than enough for one writer to manage at one time.

Let me explain…

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nMy debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, will be launched on 3rd June (oh my goodness, that’s only 44 sleeps away!) The MS has been edited, proofread and formatted so I now have the pdf. But there’s one last opportunity for a final read-through before it goes to print. My wonderful publishers, So Vain Books, have said that I don’t have to do the final read-through (as they’ll do one), but I feel that I want to so that I can give a final seal of approval before it goes to print. I’m away with my day job for four nights this week – lots of alone time in a hotel which is perfect for reading – so I’ve committed to having that done by the end of the weekend.

My second novel, ‘Getting Over Gary’, will be released in 2016. This is the sequel to Steven, although it can also be read as a stand-alone book. I’d edited Gary recently, but I felt that I hadn’t quite got there with a particular plot-point and I needed some direction. My lovely writing friend (and publishing company buddy), Jo Bartlett, had offered to do another beta read of it. Sharon had recently read Steven for the first time and also offered to beta read Gary for me. The feedback came back and they both had a couple of suggestions that I wanted to work on. Originally I’d agreed a deadline of end of May to get the MS to So Vain Books. This was well in advance of 2016’s release, but there didn’t seem any point in delaying putting Gary to bed. However, when I received the pdf of Steven, I flicked through to the back where the release of Gary was announced and it struck me that we were missing an opportunity to promote him properly. I had an email conversation with SVB’s Publishing Director, Stephanie, and we agreed that it would be great to include Gary’s blurb or, even better, the first chapter. But SVB would need to read Gary before we could finalise either of these so I’ve been working like crazy over the last week to do the final edit and another read-through. I emailed Gary to Steph last night. I confess I’m slightly nervous about this. What if they don’t like him as much as they loved Steven? Eek!

P1030967My third novel, with a working title (likely to change) of ‘Discovering David’ is the final novel in the trilogy. The plan is to release it in 2017 and you might think this is ages away so why worry about it now, but I want to be able to park the whole trilogy and move onto new stories before the end of the year. As someone who has a full-time day job as well as writing, it’s really important that I try to have several books in hand so that I’m not always trying to write to a deadline that I’d struggle to meet. While Sharon and Jo had Gary, I returned to David, and had got into a bit of a flow with him so I’m keen to return.

Finally, I have a novella on the go! Steph suggested that, as a good way to promote my writing, I might like to consider a short story relating to the trilogy. I knew that the heroine would need to be a minor character from the trilogy so that I didn’t give away any secrets. The obvious character was Callie who is the sister of my hero, Nick, from book 1. She gets married near the start of book 1 and I wanted to tell her story. I’m not known for short, short stories, so I was thinking that this would be more like an eight to twelve thousand word story. The problem is that, when I started writing it, Callie wasn’t content with being a short story. Her personality and her life grew and I suddenly had a twenty-four-thousand word novella on my hands. Oops! I emailed it to Steph with an apology that I’d sort of failed to deliver what we’d discussed. Thankfully, she loved the story – ‘Raving About Rhys’ – and could see great potential in launching a novella instead. Phew! It needs some minor editing as there’s a part of the story that happens a little too quickly (I completely agree). I don’t have the luxury of time, though, as this was meant to be released BEFORE Steven so it needs editing, proof-reading and getting out there fast. So I’ve also committed to returning the new and improved version by the end of the week.

P1050434I’m really excited about the challenge ahead, although I’m also looking ahead to the point when David is finished (hopefully early summer) so that I can relax for a bit. I’ve worked so hard for so long. A typical day for me sees me working until 6.30pm in the day job, getting home, checking social media while my daughter’s in the bath, then doing two to three hours of writing before bed. I try to have one evening off a week, but it doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, hubby understands. He’s self-employed and frequently has work to do himself on an evening, but I do feel that I neglect him so hope to have some office-free time soon.

Although book 4 keeps screaming at me to be written…

By the way, I hope you like the pictures. The official cover-reveal of ‘Searching for Steven’ will be this coming Friday (24th April) so I couldn’t include any images of the book. Instead, I’ve posted some snaps I’ve taken of Scarborough, North Yorkshire (except the one of me, of course, which hubby took) which is the inspiration for the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay where the trilogy is set.

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

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

 

Let’s Be British & Talk About the Weather!

I’m going to cheat a bit with my posting as it was my turn to pen the Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog yesterday so I’m using the same post with apologies to anyone who follows both sites!

 

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”.

So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

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The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

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As well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

ImageI thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

 

 

 

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What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

 

 

 

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

 

 

Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can! I’d love to hear your stories of great books or films where you think the weather has been used to good effect.

Julie xx