The one where Seaside Blooms has done blooming well

This week, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – the second book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series has dropped out of the UK’s Kindle Top 100 after nearly four months. Oh. My. God! FOUR MONTHS!!!

This is the first book I ever wrote and was my debut release in June 2015 under the title Searching for Steven. It shifted about 2,000 copies through my original publisher then as an indie author after they ceased trading. It wasn’t setting the world alight but I was fairly pleased. After all, when I wrote it, I had no plans to become a published author; I simply had an idea for a book and wondered if I could write one.

When Boldwood Books took on my back catalogue and we did a fresh edit on Searching for Steven and re-released it as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, never did I imagine that I’d be able to add another zero to that sales figure or experience four months in the Top 100, peaking at #14.

I have to be honest and say that it did dip out of the Top 100 once during that four months when, on 20th August, it was only as high as #101. But that’s pretty close isn’t it? I’m allowing that.

I’m thrilled to have gathered 234 reviews/ratings on Amazon, 92% if which are positive. Of course, you can’t please all the people all of the time and I have a few scathing negative reviews including this accolade:

Ouch!

And this 1-star review from someone who definitely didn’t like the main character:

Also ouch!

But so many people have loved this book and gone on to read – and love – the rest of the series. And I’m so very grateful to those who have shared their love in a positive review.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can download it here for Kindle. It’s available on Kobo, AppleBooks and in paperback and audio formats. You can borrow the audio version from your library if they have the uLibrary App or you can listen to it on Spotify. And, if you’re in Australia, it’s on a special offer on Kindle until the end of September as part of Kindle’s Monthly Deal.

I’m so proud of this book. It was a wallflower in the shadows for a long time but found its sunflower moment under Boldwood and took that moment to shine. Sometimes reader love can bloom when you least expect it!

To anyone struggling to make an impact – whether that is in writing or any other aspect of your life – hang in there because your moment to shine could be just around the corner.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

From those who loved it…

The one where I’ve emptied the emails and put a permanent out of office on. The day job is no more!

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I have just marked my final assignment, dealt with my final query, emptied my email folders and put on an out of office which says: “I no longer work for XXXX…..”

Five years in my day job as an HR Tutor have come to a close and I feel… What do I feel? Free? Elated? Excited? Scared? All of those and perhaps a little bit in denial that it has actually happened. I never thought the day would come.

If you were to ask my good friend and fellow author, the super talented Sharon Booth, what my writing goal has been in all the years we’ve known each other, she’d say, “To write full-time.” Some authors might specify their writing goals in terms of securing a  deal with a certain publisher, being taken on by a specific agent, winning an award, achieving a certain chart position or level of sales. For me, it has always been to be able to earn enough income to write full-time.

Why? Because I love it. It’s part of me. It’s who I am.

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I actually loved being a writer years before I even thought about writing a book. That may sound a little odd to say but my career has always been in HR, other than a brief diversion into retail when I opened and ran a teddy bear shop. My HR roles mainly specialised in recruitment and L&D (learning and development). The tasks that excited me were the ones where I got to write, whether that was a job advert, an assessor’s manual or a training exercise. The writing activities that gave me the biggest buzz were designing case studies or group exercises for recruitment or training purposes. Looking back, this was I was creating characters. I was developing plots. Of course, I had no idea that it was the start of me developing my skills ready to become an author. Destiny had plans for me!

Writing has always had to take a back seat to my day job and it’s been a tough old slog fitting it in but I’ve toiled away, writing on evenings and weekends, always hoping that I could one day write in a ‘normal’ 9-5 day. And now I can. Yay!!! The income won’t be nearly as much as I earn from the day job but I’ve managed to build up some day job savings that I can draw on in the hope that, one day, my writing income will be enough to do this forever.

So why do I feel a bit in denial? I suppose it’s because leaving a job where the office is my home and my colleagues and customers are all virtual is different than leaving a regular office job. When someone leaves an office job, they often say the thing they’ll miss the most is the colleagues they’re used to seeing every day but that isn’t the case for me because I’m a remote worker. I have a few colleagues who I am good friends with who I’ll definitely stay in contact with, one of whom I used to regularly meet up with pre-virus so I’m looking forward to being able to see her again. We have more than the job in common.

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I ran webinars and needed a reminder note on my desk so I wouldn’t forget it was webinar day! Felt strange recycling my notes. They’ve served me well!

When a teacher leaves a job, they would typically say they’ll miss their students but being an online tutor is different there too. I tutored two subjects, each of which have three compulsory and three optional practice assignments. I worked with some students on both subjects and others on only one. Some students wouldn’t pass a single assignment first time around and would ask lots of queries so, although we never met or spoke, we’d have a good working relationship. Others never interacted beyond submitting their assignments. Some were a delight to work with and were so enthusiastic to learn. Others not so much. But, because it was a constant churn as students moved through the qualification, the relationship was short-term so I don’t miss “my class” because I never had a class. That said, there are some students – recent and from some time back – who I will always remember for being an absolute pleasure to support on their journey.

There have been some major frustrations and I have massive empathy and respect for anyone in the teaching profession as a result of my five years as a tutor because … oh my goodness … so many students do not listen! Or read. Or pay attention. Argh! Which prompted my super talented husband to draw the amazing image at the top of this post of me at my desk with steam coming out my ears when even the basics couldn’t seem to be mastered.

For example, when running a webinar explaining the assignment:

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Me: This assignment is 500 words. There’s a 10% leeway meaning you can submit between 450-550 words. This applies to the WHOLE assignment, not per question. If you submit an assignment over or under the allowable word count, it won’t be marked….

Student 1: Is it 500 words per question?

Student 2: Can you go over word count?

I could write pages of examples but it would make for a very boring blog post for anyone except my colleagues who’d be nodding and smiling and rolling their eyes with me. I’m sure most people can relate to the picture, though, whatever job you’re in.

So tomorrow is a new dawn, new day, new era. Very, very exciting. And scary. But mostly exciting…

Thank you so much to my long-suffering husband and daughter who have never moaned at the ludicrously long hours I’ve had to work to try and keep two full-time jobs going.

Have a great start to the week. I’m certainly going to!

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

 

 

The one where I took a big step in building the tomorrow I’ve always dreamed of

Boldwood Books posted this meme on their Facebook site yesterday and it could not have been more appropriate for me because, yesterday, I grabbed my opportunity to build the tomorrow I want. Yesterday, I resigned from my day job!

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I’ve always needed to fit writing around a full-time day job which has not been easy. Over the years, I’ve held some very demanding roles where I’ve barely written because extremely long hours and/or business travel has prevented it. And it didn’t really matter at first because, when I was writing my debut novel, it felt a more like a hobby. Could I learn how to write a book? Could I get to the end? Would it be readable? I never actually thought beyond that but, once I’d joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and received positive feedback from readers on the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), I began to imagine that there could be something beyond a finished manuscript loitering on my computer.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay 

And there was.

Five years ago, I became a home-based HR Tutor.

Five years ago, my first book was published.

Five years ago, it was no longer a hobby.

Five years ago, I dreamed that I would one day be able to write full-time.

And five years later, it’s happening. Or at least it will be when I’ve served my four weeks’ notice.

And then I’m going to lie on a chaise while a scantily-clad Adonis drops grapes into my mouth while dictating my amazing new novels to a harassed secretary. Oh, wait, have I stolen a Little Britain sketch there?

What I’ll actually be doing is writing but I’ll be able to do it every day. And I’ll be able to do it during the day instead of late on evenings or across weekends like I’ve had to since I started writing. Which means I may actually have some time to spend with my immediate (household) family, extended family (post lockdown) and actually find time to exercise the lard off my rather enormous writer’s bottom!

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

I am so very grateful to the brilliant Boldwood Books and particularly my editor, Nia. Without my publishing deal with them, my dream would have remained just a dream. Their passion and enthusiasm has taken me from ticking over in the charts with a small number of sales each week to being an international bestseller who has sold 30,000 books (eBook, paperback or audio) through them since my first release in September last year. Wow!

I can’t help but smile at the words ‘international bestseller’ because, in my mind, that conjures up the likes of J K Rowling, Dan Brown, Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Stephen King (picking from a mix of genres here). It’s not me! However, you are officially classed as a ‘bestseller’ if you get into the Top 100 on the Amazon charts and I’ve managed that:

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 02.20.52The Secret to Happiness – #9 in Canada

The Secret to Happiness – #20 in Australia

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – #20 in the UK

Eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!!

Leaving my day job is scary. I’m walking away from a decent monthly income. I’m leaving behind a career choice I made when I was eighteen (a loooong time ago!) My income from writing will be a small fraction of what I earn normally but that drop in income will be worth it for the joy of being able to spend time every day ‘making stuff up’ and finally getting a work:life balance.

To anyone with a dream like mine, keep holding onto it. It might not come to fruition quickly or easily. I’ve certainly had my fair share of rejection, disappointment, self-doubt, and more disappointment along the way. About eighteen months ago, I felt so down about things that I even wondered whether to give up completely. But I couldn’t not write. It’s part of who I am and I’d be lost without it. So I took a deep breath, tried not to cry too much about the many days with zero sales and the low chart positions despite the great reviews and keep believing that, one day, it would happen to me.

And it has.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Roll on Friday 5th June – my very last day. Each webinar run, each assignment marked, and each query answered will take me a step closer to living my dream.

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and believed in me along the way, especially my amazing husband, Mark, and our daughter, Ashleigh, who have always accepted that I have two full-time jobs and not a lot of time.

Thanks to my mum – my biggest supporter who tells everyone she meets about her daughter, the author.

Thanks to all those who have ever beta read my work (in alphabetical order) – Clare, Liz, Debbie, Jo, Mum, Nicola, Sharon, Sue and Susan with an extra huge shout-out to Sharon who has been my shoulder to cry on, my champion and an inspiration. Can’t wait to meet up and eat (lots of) cake when we’re through the other side. Yes, I know that defeats the bottom-reducing plan but needs must!

And, of course, a huge thanks to so many amazing bloggers and readers, some of whom have been around since the start, through my indie years, and are still with me now and others who’ve just recently discovered my work and have been so lovely and supportive.

Every single one of you have made my dream come true and I can’t thank you enough.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

If you want to read my uplifting stories of love and friendship set on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast, or find out more:

My books are available on Amazon, AppleBooks, Kobo in eBook, paperback and audio formats. You can find my Amazon page here.

You can find my Boldwood Books on Audible here.

You can sign up to my newsletter here.

 

Happy Anniversary to Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Something special to mark the occasion & new beginnings

P1050691Last week, I brought you the exciting news about two book deals in my post “A Tale of Two Contracts” Acts I and II. It’s been lovely receiving so many positive comments from excited friends, family, and fellow-Write Romantics. Some of them have even generously bought me gifts so I wanted to share a couple and thank the senders.

P1050673The first gift arrived in the post from my lovely writing friend and fellow-founder of The Write Romantics, Jay Bartlett. Meet Smithy, my gorgeously soft brown teddy (names as such because he’s exclusively made for WH Smith which feels like a very appropriate supplier for a writer who aspires to have their book on the shelves of WH Smith one day). He’s wearing a white t-shirt bearing the message “You got ‘the call’ Julie” (Julie being my real name rather than my pen name). Jay has been an invaluable source of support. She’s read Steven on two, possibly three occasions and provided feedback and support. She’s also been the voice of reason and encouragement through the inevitable moments of self-doubt every writer has. Thank you Jay xxx

P1050694I have a wonderful colleague at work called Joanna who makes me laugh so much. When I got my first publishing offer which was for eBook only, she was a bit gutted because she wanted to read the book so badly but didn’t have an eReader and wondered how she could acquire one without letting on to her dad who’s very anti-eReaders. When I got – and accepted – the second deal and she knew there was a paperback coming, she said “I’ll pay full price. I won’t even wait till it’s 3 for 2 in Asda!” Hee hee. Bless her. Anyway, Joanna bought me this fabulous pen with the engraving “Julie – Published Writer” especially for my first signings! How lovely is that? Thank you to you, Joanna, for always believing in me 🙂 xx

P1050692Fellow Write Romantic Alys met me for tea in York last week and she presented me with a gorjuss coaster. No, that’s not a typo – gorjuss is the make of these absolutely gorgeous characters. I love them. This one says “we can all shine” which feels such a positive message for someone whose dreams have come true. I have a couple already. I have one by my bedside of a girl standing on a pile of books and I have another on my desk that says “I found my family in a book”. I actually use two coasters on my desk; one for my water and one for my tea and now I can replace the Pooh-bear one with my new gorguss one. Alys, like the rest of the WRs, has been really encouraging and supportive throughout and also read Steven for me which was really lovely of her when it’s not her preferred genre of books. Thanks Alys. By the way, Alys also gave me a heart-shaped purple-foil-wrapped chocolate lolly. But I troughed it before I thought to take a photo. Oops!

P1050687I bought myself a little gift, too. I have a friend who makes beautiful hand-crafted signs and I’d previously asked her to make me one for my office with both my names on it. I asked her to produce a matching one with a wonderful quote introduced to me by Write Romantic Helen Phifer which I find incredibly apt.

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My final gift was my fabulous purchase at the weekend courtesy of my husband. I collect teddy bears. I love soft, plush bears and have many but I collect proper jointed teddy bears made by companies like Steiff, Hermann Teddy Original, Dean’s and Merrythought but I also love artist bears which are hand-crafted by people who simply love teddy bears. I told Mark that I’d love to have a collector bear to commemorate by book deal so he took me round the three bear shops in York at the weekend to look. It wasn’t looking good at first. I wanted the bear to have some connection to my writing although I didn’t know quite how I’d manage that. I hoped it would just “speak” to me. In the first two shops, I came across the same limited edition bear (15000 pieces I think it was) called “Jessica”. Perfect name but I wasn’t sure I loved her. She wore some pink pearls and I think it was them that were putting me off. She’d have been better without them. I resolved that I’d go to the third shop and if none of the bears grabbed me, I’d come back and have a good, long look at Jessica again to see if she was right. It wasn’t looking good in the third shop either. I saw a gorgeous artist bear that didn’t really have any relevance but I loved him. He was very expensive, though; four times what I’d planned to pay so there was just no way. Then, as we were leaving, I decided to study a glass cabinet with smaller bears in it and that’s when I spotted Kasimir. He’s an Astridbear; an artist from Germany and I have two fabulous Astridbears already. The word “love” on his dungarees just spoke to me. As a romance writer, I’d found my meaningful bear and he’s settled into life in the bear cabinet very well.

P1050693Thank you everyone for your cards (mum & dad, Joanna and Norma), gifts, and well wishes. I actually signed my contract on Monday so it is 100% official that I’m a So Vain Books author. I’ve come to terms with referring to myself as a “writer” for a long time (as opposed to an “aspiring writer”) but I think it will take me a long time to get used to referring to myself as an “author”!

I’ve managed to negotiate a flexible working contract at work. I’ve been toying with putting in a request since the law changed in the summer allowing anyone to request the right to flexible work (although the company doesn’t have to accept). I liked the idea of working my normal hours across four longer days and having a day off to write but I never got round to submitting it. The book deal was the push I needed and I was eternally grateful to have my request accepted immediately. It’s a trial until the end of the year to make sure it meets the needs of the business but I can’t see it being a problem. I had my first Monday off this week and it was amazing to sit at my desk and feel like an author, working for a solid day on writing-related activities.

Something else lovely happened this week at work which made me feel like a real author too. I got a phone call from our HR Manager on a completely non-work-related issue. She said that she was delighted to hear the news of my writing deal and said that she was part of a reading group and that they all take turns in choosing books. She said that, when my book was published, she’d like to choose mine to read and would I mind going along and talking to the group? Wow! How flattered was I? Naturally I said yes. It feels like things are really starting to happen.

I’d better sign off or this could go on forever! Thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey so far and to all of those who’ll join us along the way.

Jessica xx

 

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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