The one where I went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

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

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

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

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

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

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Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

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

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

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The New Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx

 

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

The one where I talk about lightbulb moments and shifting goalposts

70339176_1400040106821488_6280215439226175488_nI had a lovely writing-related day on Saturday. It was the RNA’s annual York Tea and, as that didn’t start until 1pm, I arranged to meet a York-based writing friend on the morning. The last time we met was before the same event last year so we had a lot to catch up on. It was lovely to hear all about the next steps in her journey towards hopefully securing agent representation for her debut historical novel and she was keen to learn all about my publishing deal.

Then, on the afternoon, the event itself was fabulous and it was great to catch up with writing friends and chat to virtual friends for the first time face to face.

70641082_1400040126821486_3027867912644853760_nI could write loads about the York Tea but that’s not the purpose of this post which, instead, is about a lightbulb moment and a reminder of a poem I wrote a couple of years back.

When I was talking to my writing friend on the morning, she was keen to explore what made me move from being a “successful indie writer” to seeking a publishing deal. That made me laugh. Successful? Me? I explained that part of the reason for seeking a publishing deal was that I didn’t see myself as being successful at all. I talked about low chart positions and limited sales and she was genuinely astonished that I didn’t view myself as a successful writer. We talked quite a bit about this and it was illuminating to see myself through her eyes; the eyes of a new writer.

70928445_1400040553488110_2584542097021337600_nFor over six years, I’ve been part of a writing collective who provide support and encouragement to each other, celebrate successes, and offer sympathy during low periods. This is invaluable but, because we’re all published writers now, it’s easy to forget about the early days when typing ‘the end’ was a huge achievement and being published was the holy grail. I know that comparing yourself to others is the worst thing possible but it’s also a natural human inclination. When I compare myself to the other talented authors within my writing family who write for a similar market as me, I have always been bottom of the class. I’ve only vicariously experienced high chart positions, volume sales, Amazon Prime deals, and bonuses for pages read. Whilst thrilled for my friends and cheering on their success, the question has always haunted me: What am I doing wrong? I therefore wanted to work with a publishing expert who would get me the visibility/sales that have evaded me as an indie writer, despite great reviews.

My writing friend listened to all of this and she understood where I was coming from but she listed all the things I had achieved and how in awe of this she was as someone starting out on her writing journey. As I say, it was illuminating to see myself through the eyes of a new writer.

70455697_1400040296821469_3810547224698421248_nAt the RNA Tea, I was sat next to my fabulous author friend, Sharon Booth, and a wonderful RNA member we’ve met before had a conversation with us and expressed her admiration for how well we were both doing. A friend of hers who we’d only previously ‘met’ virtually came over and said the same thing. In fact, she called us both “inspiring”. You know those cartoons where a question mark circles round the character’s head? That was us. We were hearing all these words like impressive, inspiring, role-model, aspirational and felt such a disconnect. It’s absolutely not how we view ourselves so it was astonishing to hear others describe us both in this way.

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Why don’t we see ourselves the way others see us? It goes back to a poem I wrote a couple of years ago which I posted on my blog at the time but I’ve posted below again. IMG_6926I’m no poet (as you can see) but the sentiment is there. As writers, we’re so busy shifting the goalposts that we can easily forget to focus on everything that we’ve achieved so far. I’m doing it again at the moment. So far, Boldwood Books have released six books and mine was the fourth of these but the only one out of the six not to break the top 1,000 on release date. Several have actually broken into the top 300 which is beyond amazing and I am so thrilled for them because that is such a wonderful achievement and must be such a buzz. I still haven’t broken the 2,000 mark. When I should be doing a happy dance because this is way better than the positions of any of my other books, I’m worrying that I’ve let my publisher and me down. When did I become such an over-thinker?

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So, I’m trying to focus on the successes and the goals achieved instead of the ones that are (currently) out of reach. At the time of publishing this, I have:

  1. 16 reviews on Amazon and they are all 5-star and they are all amazing reviews full of wonderful words that make me cry for joy
  2. The number 1 slot in the ‘Hot New Releases’ category on Amazon
  3. 10 books published and have written 11, with another 3 part-written
  4. 49 reviews on NetGalley, 94% of which are 4 or 5 star (59% 5 star and 35% 4 star)
  5. Been offered 3 x publishing deals, the one from Boldwood Books being a dream of a deal that I still can’t believe I was fortunate enough to secure
  6. Amazing reviews on Amazon of all my other books: 395 reviews, 98% of which are 4 or 5 star (81% 5 star and 17% 4 star)

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And that’s just the facts and figures. Add to that a supportive family and a writing family and I really am very lucky. If somebody had tapped me on the shoulder when I was working on my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and told me that I would achieve all of the above, I wouldn’t have believed them because it sounded so awesome.

IMG_6925A few weeks ago, I arranged for all the females on my side of the family to meet for lunch in York. I met up with my mum, one of my cousins and my two sisters-in-law for a mooch around the shops first. One of my SILs told me how much she was looking forward to reading The Secret to Happiness and how proud she was of everything I’d achieved. I was really touched by that. Then, at the meal, Mum got everyone to sign a card for me and I was asked to give a speech about my new publishing deal. My family were so proud and keen to know more which made me feel like I had actually done something special.

Why haven’t I felt this way before? I think that, like so many writers, I’ve struggled over the years to admit that I’m an author because the response is either:

  • IMG_6927‘I’d love to write a book … if only I had the time’ accompanied by a clear judgement that I obviously have loads of spare time
  • Genuine disinterest/change of subject
  • ‘Would I have heard of you?’ and then disinterest when I’m not in The Times Top 100
  • ‘I don’t read’ accompanied by a change of subject

So it’s easier to stay quiet than face this sort of reaction. I don’t get why people behave like this because, by saying we’re authors, we’re not saying we’re special or better than others; we’re simply declaring our career choice. I have friends who will ask me about how my day job is going (I’m a freelance HR Tutor) and be happy to chat about my work and theirs but they never, ever ask me about writing. Why not? Writing is also my day job and one day I hope it will be my full-time day job. It upsets me and, as a result, I’ve  repeatedly put myself back in my box and stopped seeing any achievements as being special, focusing on the negative aspects instead. Not anymore.

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Perhaps it’s time for a different type of goal. Instead of focusing on the chart positions and sales figures, my goal is to do with the title of my book and what it is that makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. Creating characters and putting them in challenging situations makes me feel alive. As long as I still feel that way, then I have achieved success at being a writer. With a sprinkle of hope and luck, maybe the other things will start happening when I stop worrying about them. And, if they don’t, then I need to focus on what I’ve achieved and remember how I felt when an idea for a story was all I wanted and everything else wasn’t even a dream; never mind a reality.

I’ll stop wittering now and leave you with the poem which is just as relevant to me now as it was when I wrote it a couple of years ago. The only bit I’ve changed is how many books I’ve written. It was six before.

Have a fabulous week.

Jessica xx

 

Never Enough by Jessica Redland

All I want is one idea

How difficult could that be?

A plot that has some mileage

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write a book

What an achievement that would be

300 pages, a brand new world

That would be enough for me

All I want is for someone to read it

A friend or family

If they said it was good; that I could write

That would be enough for me

All I want is an eBook publisher

How amazing would that be?

To believe in my story and share my work

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make some sales

Just one, or two, or three

A handful of readers to download to Kindle

That would be enough for me

All I want is some good reviews

How flattering would it be

For strangers to say they love my work?

That would be enough for me

All I want is to climb the charts

It would make me so happy

To see my ‘baby’ go up and up

That would be enough for me

All I want is a bestseller tag

In some obscure category

That orange flag would scream success

That would be enough for me

All I want is to break the top hundred

I know there’s no guarantee

But then I’d know I’ve got some talent

That would be enough for me

All I want is to be top ten

Can anyone hear my plea?

Side by side with my favourite authors

That would be enough for me

All I want is a number one

I’d barely contain my glee

That coveted slot and all those sales

That would be enough for me

All I want is a paperback

Something I can hold and see

To say “I wrote this”, oh my word

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write full time

A lady that lunches? So me!

Full days in my office, creating away

That would be enough for me

All I want is an audio deal

Listening while sipping my tea

Those accents, those sounds, my world brought to life

That would be enough for me

All I want is my books on the shelves

Of a supermarket: big four. Or three

The sales, the success would remove all the stress

That would be enough for me

All I want is a top five publisher

The validation? My pants I would pee!

I’d finally know that I really can write

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make foreign sales

Australia? France? Germany?

Translations galore, the world at my door

That would be enough for me

All I want is the film to be made

The big screen for everyone to see

Amazing reviews, the compliments ooze

That would be enough for me

All I want is an Oscar win

I’d really be top of the tree

Best screenplay? Oh my, I think I would cry

That would be enough for me

All I want is some book two success

And the same for book number three

Doing even better than first out the grid

That would be enough for me

All I wanted was one idea

To write a book, just for me

But the goalposts kept changing, my life rearranging

And it’s never enough for me

It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed

When sales aren’t what I’d hoped

And reviews are mean and personal

And very unprovoked

When all the writers that I know

Seem to do so great

And the day job takes priority

So my writing has to wait

So it’s back to the start to recapture that feeling

When first I typed “the end”

When someone said, “I loved it!”

Even though they were a friend

When I sat at my keyboard and laughed and cried

As my characters found their voices

When the publishing world was unexplored

But filled with exciting choices

The task once seemed impossible:

To write a full-length story

A big fat tick against that goal

I should bask in the glory

That I achieved what many don’t

And repeated it eleven-fold

I am a writer BECAUSE I WRITE;

Not for how many I’ve sold

The one where I talk about my dedication to my dad

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Authors usually dedicate their books to someone. My first was for my husband and my second for my daughter and my subsequent ones were dedicated to someone whose relationship with me had some connection to the book. For example, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes features two sisters so that book was dedicated to my four sisters-in-law (as I couldn’t have chosen between them or I’d have started a war, especially as my SILs on my husband’s side of the family are twins!)

The Secret to Happiness was launched today and I dedicated it to my dad, Peter. There’s no specific link to fathers in the book but, having previously dedicated one to my mum, I felt that it was dad’s turn.

When my debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released, I had a launch party for friends and family. They spoilt me with bottles of wine and flowers and one friend bought me a Troll Beads bracelet with a book charm on it. This started a tradition of buying a charm each time I released a new book and, along with a few other charms representing my life and writing, the bracelet is now full.

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I wanted to mark the launch of The Secret to Happiness in some way. On a recent trip to York, I visited my favourite shop – Stonegate Teddy Bears – and an artist bear by J&P Mohair Bears spoke to me. Well, not literally as that would be a little weird, but I connected with him. I’m an arctophile – collector/friend of teddy bears – and I have built up quite a collection over the years. The bear is adorable and he was definitely the perfect launch day gift to myself.

It was only when I got home that I looked at the bear’s name tag. Guess what he’s called? Peter. Same as my dad to whom I’d dedicated the book. How spooky is that? Clearly it was meant to be.

Jessica xx

The one where I have a very bad day

Do you ever have one of those days that start off full of excitement and high expectations, but go horribly wrong? I had one of those days today.

My 12-year-old daughter is going to a Girlguiding festival over August bank holiday weekend and the theme is ‘Disney’. I promised her I’d take her to Primark to get some cheap Disney clothes.

We drove an hour to the retail park just outside of York. She complained of a headache when we got there and then, when we were inside Primark, she said she felt sick. Primark is the opposite end of the retail park to the toilet block so it was a bit of a dash. She wasn’t sick but felt it and looked pale.

Leaving her in the seated area outside the toilets, I bought water, Calpol, and a Poundland bucket for the journey home, just in case. Just as well because she was sick on the way home. When you have a phobia about people being sick, like I do, this is a pretty traumatic incident.

Halfway home, we discovered that the main road was closed due to an accident and we had to turn back on ourselves and take a diversion. With so many vehicles on the alternative route, there were parts of the journey that were stop/start and others that were stationary. We tried a shortcut that would have bypassed the accident but were stopped by the police because the shortcut was a narrow-is country lane and they didn’t want loads of traffic using it, risking further collisions. Fair enough. We ended up having to rejoin the traffic we’d left, much further behind than we’d been before, and stuck behind a combine harvester which held us up even more.

It took nearly two hours to get home, instead of one. We finally made it home, our only purchases of the day being the water, some Calpol and a sick bucket but thank goodness for the sick bucket!

A song I absolutely hate played on the radio en route and I didn’t have the energy to try to change station. It’s a standing joke how much I hate this song and how, despite it being from the early 90s, the local radio station seem to constantly play it. When I got home, I discovered I had been wearing odd earrings. A minor point but it seemed to add to the ‘rubbishness’ of the day.

I work freelance marking HR assignments and they’d piled up while I was gone. Some of them take a lot longer to mark than others and my inbox seemed to be full of those ones so each one took an eternity to plough through. The quality was very poor and none of them passed which is always disappointing. Then my right shoulder started aching really badly, undoubtedly from hunching over the steering wheel for two hours, rigid as a board, trying to ignore my sickness phobia and then feeling tense still as I desperately tried to catch up on my work and stop my day being a complete write-off.

But then I looked up the accident online and suddenly my bad day paled into significance. My shopping trip had been a disaster, my daughter had been sick, and we’d been stuck in traffic but this was all trivial stuff because it turns out that, in that RTA, someone died.

According to the report on the York Press website (you can read it here) “a 61-year-old man from the Sheffield area, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene”. Two children in the car, aged 9 and 10, were taken to hospital, one of them by road and one by air ambulance “with injuries not believed to be life-threatening”. There are no details about how the accident happened other than that it involved the man’s car, a car transporter and an HGV. I’m not going to speculate what might have happened as that would be unfair but, if a car was up against a transporter and HGV, it’s probably a bit of a miracle that those two poor children weren’t killed too.

Given the ages, I’m guessing this might have been a grandfather out with their grandchildren. Again, the article doesn’t say. Could have been their dad, an uncle, or perhaps just a friend. Whatever the relationships, how traumatic must that have been? Those two children are at an age where they’ll likely always remember that accident, and their lives will change forever from today.

My thoughts are with the poor children and all the families involved as well as the two drivers of the other vehicles as their lives will have now changed forever too. And my thoughts with the emergency services who deal with tragic incidents like this every day. Hats off to you. I’m not sure I could do that.

I’m sure there were many fed-up and irate people stuck in the traffic today but give me two-hours of traffic any day instead of what those involved in the accident have been through and will go through going forwards. Scary stuff.

Stay safe out there.

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I look back at June

Are we really in July already? How did that happen?

IMG_6343June was yet another crazy-busy month. The big writing news was my publishing deal. Yay! At 10am on Tuesday 18thJune, the secret I’d been keeping for three months could be shared and I spent the day on social media with a big grin on my face as the congratulations messages came in. I was quite overwhelmed with some of the support I had from friends, family and also fellow-writers, but also from those I didn’t know on Facebook and Twitter. How lovely are some people?

I had another final read-through with the proofreader’s comments so it’s now back with her for one final set of tweaks and another read. I can’t remember whether I get it back for one more read or whether this is it. Eek!

IMG_6371On other writing news, I’m on the final stretch with my MA in Creative Writing. I have the first 15k words of a novel to write for my final assignment and a 3k commentary about the learnings in relation to it. I’m writing a time slip novel which is something completely different for me. The 15k words are almost finished which now means I need to start on the commentary which needs submitting in three weeks’ time. We were able to submit the first 2.5k words from the novel as a formative assignment this month and got the feedback on this last week. I submitted two chapters, one of which saw the lead-up to my protagonist going back in time and the other being her reactions to discovering it had happened because I was keen to get feedback on whether the time slip element actually worked. Thankfully my tutor was very positive about both chapters. The second one was spot on but there were a few tweaks suggested for the first which I completely agree with and have actioned already. I’m quite excited about the way it’s shaping up. I have no idea whether Boldwood will be interested in a time slip but I will definitely finish it as it doesn’t make sense to have to write 15k words of a full-length novel and not see it through to the end.

IMG_6397We had a few family events in June. On my husband’s side of the family, our eldest nephew got married and it was a lovely day with perfect weather. After a church service, we went to the reception at Ravenhall Hotel in Ravenscar which is perched on top of the cliffs overlooking the North Yorkshire Coast with the most stunning of views. We’d love to live in that area as it really is beautiful. A couple of months back, our youngest nephew became a dad but baby Winnie was premature and poorly. In and out of different hospitals, we didn’t have a chance to meet her so it was great to finally have cuddles once she was settled at home and the whole family were invited round to say hello. As I knew she probably would, the munchkin started nagging us about giving her a brother or a sister. No way! One was plenty.

65802345_10156151167021712_5665661037131595776_nOn my side of the family, I went to York at the weekend with my mum and my sisters-in-law. We do this every so often and always have a lovely day shopping, eating and chatting. Ooh, and wine is consumed although it was super hot this weekend so a jug of Pimms went down very nicely too.

I met up with my good friend, Sharon, twice in June. We have shifted venue to a pub on the outskirts of Beverley so we can meet for a bit longer. One of our meetings was before the Beverley Chapter Meeting for the RNA where it was great to be able to share my publishing news.

July will see me doing a cover reveal for The Secret to Happiness. I’ll submit my penultimate Masters assignment and aim to write a third to half of the novel I’m using for my final Masters submission. Lots of writing planned!

Have a great July.

Jessica xx

The one where I look back at April

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

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

Award Logo wth Gary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great May, whatever you’re doing.

Jessica xx

 

 

 

It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx

A romantic Christmas tradition that never quite started

1522851_784506671588635_6474462348225739404_oOn The Write Romantics blog yesterday, I posed a Wednesday Wondering around favourite Christmas decorations. As always, it was fascinating to read the responses from my fellow-WRs but it struck me that quite a lot of them talked about sentimental reasons behind their favourite decorations whereas I just talked about ones I liked. I’m actually a fairly sentimental person so it got me thinking about why I don’t have sentimental decorations.

And a memory surfaced.

As a teenager, I had very little success with boys but things improved when I got to university. In the 2nd term of my first year, I met Ben (name has been changed just in case!) We’d been friends during the first term but it moved on from friendship the following term. The Easter break was really tough because I lived in Teesside and he lived on the south coast. Not very close. I’d planned to visit him over Easter but he contracted glandular fever and was very ill with it so we had to cancel. We knew summer would be even tougher with more than 2 months apart. We both had summer jobs and needed the money so any time together needed to be at the start or the end of the holidays. I went down to stay with him at the start and we had a short holiday on The Isle of Wight and he came to visit me at the end of the summer holidays. I’d been so excited about it after weeks apart full of soppy cards and long, romantic letters (neither of us liked the phone and it was long before email).

_MG_7508When I picked him up at Middlesbrough Coach Station, he seemed a bit distant but I put it down to tiredness after an incredibly long journey. We took a trip to Whitby and the distance was there again and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I’d planned a day out in York. I figured that maybe a day by the coast hadn’t been very exciting for someone who lived close to the sea anyway but surely he’d be impressed by the beauty of York.

I’d schemed something over the summer. In York, there’s an amazing shop called Christmas Angels. It sells collectible teddy bears, toys, and and Christmas decorations. The main room at the back of the shop is absolutely full of Christmas stuff from nativity scenes to intricate advent candles to basic baubles. My plan was to take him there to buy a decoration that would be our first joint decoration and a habit we’d repeat each year because I’d believed I’d met “the one” and we’d be together always. But, as I looked round at the decorations, and he questioned why we were in a Christmas shop in the summer, I realised I couldn’t confess the real reason for taking him there. I made some excuse about thinking he’d like to look around because it’s a lovely shop. Then we left. I knew at that point that something had changed in our relationship for whatever reason – time apart and distance perhaps – and that we wouldn’t have joint Christmases. It was quite a sad realisation.

_MG_7511We made it through one more Christmas (spent apart again) but split up the following spring. We remained friends but drifted apart for good about fifteen years ago.

I’m not someone who likes to repeat things I’ve done with one partner with a new one because it feels false and cringe-worthy. I’ve therefore never wanted to repeat this sentiment with my hubby of buying one special bauble a year. We did actually start our own thing. We bought an illuminated house one year and he suggested we bought one each year until we built up a collection. We added another one to it. Then a train. Then we didn’t see any more we liked and we also realised that we’d quickly run out of space for them. The collection stopped at two properties and a vehicle!

_MG_7513He does add to our Christmas collection most years, though. Last year he bought me the most stunning lit cone-shaped structure that looks like it’s snow-covered twigs with berries on, weaved to form the shape. There’s a section of it in this picture. This year, I spotted a gorgeous soft reindeer in our local garden centre and he bought me that which was very sweet.

My favourite aspect of Christmas decorations has to be the fairy lights. There’s something so warm and romantic about being in a room with twinkling fairy lights all around. I love candles too although I tend to light them most of the year round. Speaking of which, I think it’s time I headed downstairs and wrapped a few more gifts while the lights tinkle and the candles flicker. Lovely.

Night night xx

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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