How a piece of coursework became a series: The story behind the story of Hedgehog Hollow

New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – the second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – has been out for just over a week now and there are two more books planned so far. Book 3 – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – is going through the final publisher edits at the moment and is available for pre-order, and book 4 (not yet written or titled) will be out in January 2022. But this series started as a coursework activity on my Masters in Creative Writing. So how did a short exercise develop into (at least) a four-book series?

Ideas are everywhere if you keep your mind open. A newspaper headline, a song lyric, a snippet of overheard conversation, an old church, a quirky cottage, a character trait… the list could go on and on.

I’ve written twelve full-length novels now and the ideas for all of them have come to me in a variety of ways. The only fully-formed idea was for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – book 2 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series but the first book I wrote. I personally received a clairvoyant reading telling me that, when I moved back to the north and opened up a shop, I would meet the man of my dreams called Steven. This triggered the whole plot for that story but it’s the only time this has happened. All my other stories have developed on the back of something smaller which has developed into a bigger idea with the help of the most valuable question a writer can ask themselves: What if…?

Between 2017 and 2019, I completed a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University. We had assignments to submit for formal marking but we also had shorter writing activities to share with our tutor group for feedback and discussion. In our first year, one of these activities was around characters being in uncomfortable scenarios where they needed to hide how they really felt.

As I write romance stories, I wanted a romantic scenario and what is more romantic than a wedding? The bride would (hopefully) be happy on her wedding day so she wasn’t the ideal person to be my protagonist but her bridesmaid could be ideal…

What if… the bridesmaid had to act all happy and smiley but was secretly devastated because the groom was the man she loved? I liked that idea.

And what if… the bride wasn’t just her best friend but also a relative? Sister? Bit too close perhaps. Cousin? That certainly added some intrigue. 

So I had my love triangle: Samantha being bridesmaid at Chloe’s wedding – her best friend and cousin – and the groom, James, being the man they both loved.

This presented lots more questions. Why was Chloe marrying the man Samantha loved? Did James know Samantha loved him? What was his relationship to Samantha? So many possibilities!

But this wasn’t a fully-formed plot idea. It was just a starting point. I needed so much more including a setting. So far, all of my books had been set in the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay but, even if I was sticking with Whitsborough Bay, I still needed a specific setting for this story. For some reason, Samantha didn’t strike me as one of the Castle Street business owners. So who was she?

For a while, I’d been thinking of setting one of my stories on a farm. I had a vision of my protagonist stumbling across a dilapidated farm and befriending the owner.

I’d also been thinking about setting a story in a hedgehog rescue centre. My auntie runs a small-scale rescue centre and I’d talked to her about what the role involved. I was a Brown Owl at the time and one of my Brownies was passionate about animals, particularly hedgehogs, and she asked if she could talk to the pack about them for one of her badges. I discovered through her that there was a hedgehog rescue centre in the village where our pack was based. It was called Sleepy Hollow (since closed) which I thought was gorgeous. I love a bit of alliteration and ‘Hedgehog Hollow’ immediately popped into my mind for my story, if I ever wrote it.

So here I was with three separate ideas: a story set in a rescue centre called ‘Hedgehog Hollow’, a protagonist stumbling across a dilapidated farm, and a love triangle at a wedding. Could they be combined?

What if… Samantha was the person who stumbled across the dilapidated farm?

What if… she was a nurse so she was able to help the person she found and potentially have a reason to stay in touch with him afterwards?

And what if… she found him because she was lost on what was already proving to be a stinker of a day: Chloe and James’s wedding?

Ooh, and what if… the farm was a hedgehog rescue centre?

With lots more questions and what ifs, the idea for Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow came together.

It was only meant to be one book but I fell in love with Samantha and the beautiful Hedgehog Hollow and there was no way I could just get the rescue centre up and running then leave it there. I certainly wanted to know more. And from the amazing reviews I’ve had so far, readers have absolutely loved their return to the rescue centre on the Yorkshire Wolds.

A few days ago, I posted that I’d passed 100 reviews within a week. I’m thrilled and astonished to say that, just a few days later, I’ve passed 200 reviews and still no 1 or 2-star ones. (217 global reviews/ratings and, from them, just 9 ratings (without reviews) at 3-star). Eek!

What’s that saying? Out of small acorns grow giant oak trees? Something like that! That’s how I find most of my books grow. There’s a small acorn of an idea and I plant it in my mind, feed it with some questions, and it grows roots and branches until it’s a become a tree. And, in the case of Hedgehog Hollow, it’s not just one tree; it’s a small copse.

Although there are four books planned, there’s so much scope with these characters and this setting. Who knows where it will take me next?

A huge thank you to everyone who has shared their love for New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow and is excited to read Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. The hedgehogs and I are absolutely delighted with your support.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

2 thoughts on “How a piece of coursework became a series: The story behind the story of Hedgehog Hollow

  1. Loved reading how the story came about. I used to imagine that a writer just woke up one day with a book (beginning to end) in their mind, not realising that characters take on their own life and stories develop previously unthought of pathways. Only once I started writing did I discover otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

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