Originally independently published in 2018 as Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café, I do tend to think of my Boldwood birthdays as the official birthdays as so few readers discovered my work before I joined them.
I love this story and, with over 1700 reviews/ratings on Amazon – 94% positive – and more than 35,000 copies sold in a year, it seems readers do too. Thank you to everyone who has bought/borrowed/listened and left a review/recommended this story. I appreciate that so much.
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café is best read after Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes as the two books feature friends Carly and Tara with businesses next door to each other and follow on chronologically.
Officially, Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shopis the 1st book in the Christmas on Castle Street Series as it’s set chronologically before the other two but it isn’t as closely connected as they are.
Happy book birthday Starry Skies xxx
Big hugs Jessica xx
Here’s the blurb…
Cosy up with a mug of hot chocolate for some festive sparkle from bestseller Jessica Redland.
Everyone is getting into the festive spirit on Castle Street – snow is falling, fairy lights are glistening and Christmas shopping is underway.
But for Tara Porter, owner of thriving cafe, The Chocolate Pot, this is the most difficult time of the year. From the outside, Tara is a successful businesswoman and pillar of the community. Behind closed doors, she is lonely.
With a lifetime of secrets weighing on her shoulders, she has retreated from all friends, family and romance, and shut her real self away from the world. Afterall, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. She’s learnt that the hard way.
But as the weight of her past becomes heavier and an unexpected new neighbour moves onto the street – threatening the future of her cafe – Tara begins to realise that maybe it’s time to finally let people back in and confront her history. It could just change her life forever…
I’m celebrating a first book birthday for my first Boldwood Books Christmas release, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes.
Originally an indie release in October 2017 (under the same title), Carly’s Cupcakes is a little older than one but I think of today as the official one-year book birthday because that’s when the new, longer, improved version was released; the version which has been enjoyed by way more readers than had been discovered when I was an indie author.
At just under 60k words, it’s my shortest novel. To put this into context, the average length of a novel is 60-100k and most of mine are at the higher end of that between 90k-105k words.
The reason my novels usually come in at the top end is that I usually have several sub plots running in the story which add additional layers. Some have a second person perspective so the story is seen from two sides, naturally lending itself to more word count.
In Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, there is intentionally a less intricate plot for several reasons:
It was originally planned as a novella (although I failed abysmally to stick within the 40k word count required for that!)
It was always intended as a lighter Christmas read
It covers a shorter span of time, all the action unfolding across December
It’s a single perspective story
Just because it’s a shorter, lighter read, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t address some deeper issues. Bullying and mental health are covered in this story but, while some of my books have readers reaching for the tissues, I’d say this will tug at the heartstrings but is less likely to bring on the tears than some of my other reads.
It’s the story of the relationship between two sisters, Carly and Bethany, in the run-up to Christmas. It’s the busiest time of year for Carly but Bethany, who works with her in Carly’s Cupcakes, has zero talent when it comes to cake decorating and a big talent for courting disaster. She’s more of a hindrance than a help but, as the story unfolds, we discover the reasons why Carly can’t and won’t dismiss her sister even though each Bethany-shaped problem causes more and more problems for the business.
It’s also a love story. While Bethany is preparing for her Christmassy wedding (also not without disaster), Carly is wondering whether she can be courageous enough to tell her long-term best friend, Liam, how she really feels about him when he comes home on leave from the army.
I loved writing this story and am delighted that (most) readers have loved reading it too. At the time of writing, it has a whopping 2,239 reviews/ratings on Amazon so I’m hoping it will make it to 2,500 as we get into the festive season. They have a 90% positive rating (5 or 4 stars) which is amazing. I’ve posted a selection of the comments from 5-star reviews across this post and am so grateful for the book-love.
I say most readers have loved reading it because you’ll never please all the people all of the time. “One star is more than it deserves” reads a review from last October. Ouch! There are also the two hilarious two-star reviews given because “it’s too early for Christmas”. Tip: So don’t download a Christmas book with the word Christmas in the title in August if you don’t like reading about Christmas in the summer!
It isn’t meant to be a book full of twists and turns. It isn’t meant to be a literary masterpiece designed to change world-thinking. It’s meant to be lovely, warm and fuzzy, Christmassy-infused escapism and I will always be proud of this tale of love, family and friendship. A huge thank you to all those amazing readers who have loved it for exactly what it is.
Happy book birthday Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes. You’ve done me proud. The eBook is available for Kindle here and on Apple and Kobo. It’s currently in a buy one get one free deal on Kobo as I’m the Author of the Month there. You can also listen to it on audio download and streaming services, buy a large print or paperback version, or get in touch with me if you’d like a signed paperback.
I recommend then going on to Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe to find out what happens next for Carly when we pick up the story of Tara Porter, the owner of The Chocolate Pot next door to Carly’s Cupcakes. This is a longer, deeper and more emotional read set across a whole year.
Big hugs Jessica xx
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.
For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…
As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?
Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?
Today I’m delighted to wish my amazing publisher, Boldwood Books, a Happy 2nd Birthday. Woo hoo!
Boldwood officially launched in February 2019, opening up to submissions that day, and I was all ready with my manuscript the moment we passed midnight and was thrilled to get ‘the call’ the following month and join the team as one of the first twenty authors.
The reason today – 1st August – is the official birthday is that this is the date the first release went out into the world. Nina Manning’s The Daughter in Law – a psychological thriller – was a huge success, as were the other August releases: romcom Honeymoon for One by Portia MacIntosh and contemporary women’s fiction Villa of Sun and Secrets by Jennifer Bohnet.
My Boldwood debut, The Secret to Happiness, was the first September release and it was so exciting seeing a new release out pretty much every week as the portfolio grew.
During their two years, Boldwood have delivered exactly what they promised: publishing reimagined. They have taken the ‘digital first’ concept and said ‘but that doesn’t need to mean digital only’ and, right from the start, all titles were released in several formats: eBook on all platforms, paperback, physical audio and audio download. But they haven’t stopped there. All titles are available in large print formats too and all titles released since March this year have come out in hardback (and older titles will, over time, retrospectively be available in that format). Streaming services have also been added meaning that, whatever a person’s reading or listening preferences, Boldwood have it covered.
They established a programme with The Works and I was thrilled to have three books – The Secret to Happiness, Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – go into The Works stores and online in 2020. This programme has also seen additional stock distributed around the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada meaning that books could appear in garden centres, post offices, small and large supermarkets in those countries. I’ve personally spotted one of mine in two local garden centres and a friend sent me a photo of one in her local post office which was such a thrill.
Another amazing deal saw many books go into supermarkets in Australia. The distributor specified crime and thrillers only so mine weren’t included but I was still able to enjoy the moment vicariously seeing shelfies from down under featuring books by my Boldwood buddies.
Across the two years, Boldwood have been nominated and shortlisted for various industry prizes, winning the regional heat of the Publisher of the Year in the British Book Awards 2021 and winning the Best Newcomer award at the Independent Publishing Awards 2020.
Team Boldwood have also:
Sold 4 million books (across all formats)
Had 45 Top 10 Bestsellers
Signed more than 60 authors
Published over 160 titles
Received more than 100,000 5-star reviews on Amazon
Expanded to a team of 8
Acquired over 15,000 social media followers
That’s a lot of amazing achievements in only two years! Very much looking forward to where the next two years take us. I’m already aware of some exciting new opportunities which will be revealed in due course, and I’m sure there’ll be many more.
For me personally, two years brings an amazing milestone. On Tuesday (3rd August), the final book in my first twelve-book publishing contract is released. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop is also the final book in my backlist, all of which Boldwood acquired, and was previously out as Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. Then, later this month, Snowflakes at The Starfish Café is published (31st August) which sees the start of a brand new twelve-book deal and a new series. I can’t believe I’m already on my second contract! When it came to resigning with Boldwood, I didn’t even need to think about it. A resounding YES!
A month before Boldwood’s first birthday, I added Hedgehog Hollow to my settings and have been overwhelmed with the love for the hedgehogs. There are now three books out there with a fourth on pre-order and more to come from the hedgehogs in 2022.
A huge CONGRATULATIONS to the whole team at Boldwood Books for creating such a warm, friendly, innovative company and for being so supportive. My particular gratitude goes to Amanda Ridout, our Founder and CEO, for her passion, enthusiasm and tremendous vision and to my editor (and Publishing / Sales & Marketing Director), Nia Beynon, who is an absolute dream to work with. Nia has been my editor from the start and therefore knows, understands, and loves the worlds of Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow as much as I do. She is my sounding board and a shoulder to cry on and I have learned so much from her exceptional editing skills about how to turn a good story into a great one.
A thank you to Megan Townsend, Publishing Executive, who works behind the scenes preparing the books for publication and Claire Fenby, Digital Marketing Manager, who only joined the team fairly recently but has already made such a tremendous impact on our social media channels with her digital innovations.
I’m so grateful to the team of authors at Boldwood for being such a supportive, friendly group. Very excited to hopefully meet them all in person at some point. Congratulations to you all for writing such amazing books. I’m a very slow reader but I think I’ve maybe read about twenty Boldwood releases so far and they’ve all been exceptional. My mum, bless her, has read (and loved) nearly all of them!
Finally an enormous THANK YOU to all the readers and bloggers/reviewers who buy the books in whatever format, leave reviews, spread recommendations, send messages, and share the love. We wouldn’t be here without your support. Huge hugs to every single one of you.
Happy 2nd Birthday Boldwood. Here’s to an exciting third year…
I’m celebrating a very exciting 1st book birthday today because it’s not just a book that was born but a series. Happy 1 year anniversary to the first book in the Hedgehog Hollow series, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow.
I was nervous about the publication of this book on 2nd July last year because, until that point, every book I’d written was set in the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay. I knew readers loved that setting but it didn’t right for Hedgehog Hollow. I wanted my hedgehog rescue centre to be in a countryside rather than a coastal setting. I only hoped my Whitsborough Bay readers wouldn’t mind the change.
The great news is they didn’t. Phew! In fact, the series has hooked in a huge number of new readers who were drawn in by the hedgehogs. Many of them have then gone on to read the Whitsborough Bay books too which is lovely.
When I first decided to set a book in a hedgehog rescue centre, I imagined it as a standalone story. Silly me. I should have learned by now that I don’t think that way. I nearly always think bigger than a single plotline and manage to introduce a cast of characters, each of whom has their own story to tell and, before I know it, I have a sequel or a series on my hands. Hedgehog Hollow was no different.
In the first book, we meet my heroine Samantha and find out how she came to be the owner of Hedgehog Hollow. The hedgehog rescue centre doesn’t open until the end of the first book so it definitely needed a sequel to see her taking in lots of gorgeous rescue hedgehogs. But it would just be two books. Definitely. Although…
As I wrote book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, (which came out in January this year) more stories emerged and there was no way I could end it at book two without ever telling them.
Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow was published in May this year telling one of those stories but there are plenty more to come. There will definitely be five plus a prequel. There may be six. There could be more! Some characters won’t have a book focusing on them because much of their backstory has come out in other books and I would only ever make a person a focus of a book if I feel that there is a good story to be told and a good story would not be regurgitating what the readers already know. For example, I don’t see Samantha’s mum Debs as a focus because readers already know a lot about her past *pauses as readers cheer because nobody likes Debs*
I wrote the first three books in the series back to back. I also worked on the edits for some of my backlist books in the midst of that, preparing them for re-publication through Boldwood Books. After writing book 3, it was time to take a break from Hedgehog Hollow as Whitsborough Bay was calling. Over the past few months, I’ve been writing Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café which is set just outside Whitsborough Bay. This will be out on 31st August and, true to form, there’s more than one story to tell. It will definitely have a sequel but it may become a trilogy.
It was good to have a break from Hedgehog Hollow but oh so lovely to return to the farm and my friends for book 4. I’m partway through writing A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow which is out on 6th January 2022 but available for pre-order now.
I get so many messages and comments on social media from readers telling me they can’t bear the wait for book 4 and I need to write faster! This is exceptionally flattering, knowing that readers are clamouring to find out what happens next. That might have something to do with the unexpected cliffhanger I dropped at the end of Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. The thing is, it can take readers a day (or less) to read a book but it takes just a smidge longer than that for an author to write one so I’m afraid there has to be a bit of a wait between books. Really sorry to those who are waiting patiently … or not so patiently! Don’t they say that all good things come to those who wait?
I love this series so much. I can vividly picture myself at the farm, sitting on Thomas’s bench, looking out over the wildflower meadow sowed by Thomas and Gwendoline with the farm cat Misty Blue draped across my knee. Every time I write a scene there, I can almost smell the flowers, hear the buzz of bees, feel the gentle breeze kissing my cheeks. It’s so tranquil. I keep telling my husband that I want to live in the real Hedgehog Hollow. Need a Netflix deal before that would ever be financially possible!
I’m so exceptionally proud of how well those hedgehogs have done in finding a place in readers’ hearts. The three books so far have sold over 120,000 units combined (i.e. a copy in any format) in the space of only a year and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is on its way to being the first of my individual books to join Boldwood’s 100k Club and will hopefully be there in the next few months. Go hedgehogs go!
The hedgehogs have scampered into the UK Kindle Top 100 for all three books, with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow peaking at #31 and they’ve had some impressive positions on the Apple Chart with an amazing #2 for New Arrivals, Top 10 in Australia and New Zealand and Top 100 in the USA. The latter is especially impressive when there are no wild hedgehogs in the USA! Family Secrets also stormed the Apple chart with #5 in the UK and Top 200 in the USA.
But the thing I am most proud of is the reviews they’ve gathered and it is so fitting on the book birthday of the series that I am close to celebrating another milestone. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow is just 15 shy of received 2000 ratings/reviews on Amazon and it hasn’t even been out for two months yet (released on 4th May). Hopefully it will even hit that milestone by the two-month anniversary.
I’ve never experienced anything like this. At the time of writing this, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1) has 2,291 reviews and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow has 2,724 with a 4.7/4.6/4.7 average rating across them. Wow! The love is definitely there for the hedgehogs.
So as the hedgehogs and I party and celebrate one year of this new series, we would like to thank everyone who has made all of these achievements possible. In no particular order as everyone is extremely important in this list:
Readers and listeners without whom I wouldn’t be able to keep doing this. You are absolutely amazing
Bloggers and reviewers who have been on the blog tours or independently shared their kind words about the series
The gorgeous community on Redland’s Readers, my Facebook group for those who love my stories. You can join Redland’s Readers here if you’re a fan and want to immerse yourself in the worlds of Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow
The team at Boldwood Books, particularly my amazing editor Nia for her insightful feedback and her encouragement
The authors at #TeamBoldwood for their support
Emma Swan, James Dryden and Lucy Browhill for their amazing narration and ISIS Audio and Ulverscroft for the production and distribution of the audio versions
My tribe – the wonderful Write Romantics and the other talented authors out there who champion my work
My mum who is my number 1 fan and an absolute star
My Auntie Gwen, a hedgehog rescuer, for providing the inspiration in the first place
All the amazing rescue centres whether large scale or small around the country for the incredible work you do in helping protect these gorgeous creatures
If you haven’t already dived into the world of Hedgehog Hollow, the hedgehogs are waiting to welcome you. You can buy in a stack of formats – eBook for Apple, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, paperback, hardback (only book 2 and 3 at the moment), large print, audio and streaming via Spotify. And if you’re still not sure, here’s a couple of quotes from reviews, including ones from the audio version…
An old friend and I exchanged news on Messenger this week and she asked if I was still writing full-time. I replied last night that I was and it had been about a year. And then it struck me that it had been pretty much exactly a year and I might even have missed the anniversary. I had. So this is a bit of a belated post!
Tuesday – 8th June – was the one-year anniversary of me being a full-time author. What an amazing year it has been for my career as an author with so many wonderful goals achieved, but it has also been the most peculiar of years thanks to a global pandemic changing everyone’s lives.
This isn’t a blog post about goals achieved or about the strange world in which we live. Instead, it’s about how I’ve found writing full-time…
I thought I’d start this post by sharing an amazing cartoon my husband drew for me to represent frustrating days in my previous role as a distance learning HR Tutor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job … most of the time. I don’t think there are many jobs that don’t have a few niggles but the ones in mine had become more frequent and increasingly challenging so the steam coming out the ears had become a regular thing!
So how has the first year been as a full-time author? Not quite what I expected. I say this not because I’m not ‘living the dream’ by doing exactly what I want to do, but because my approach to the freedom to write full-time hasn’t been what I expected and I find myself unexpectedly working more hours than I’ve ever worked.
I used to be able to write a book in 2-3 months squeezing my writing time into evenings and weekends around my demanding more-than-full-time day job. I ran evening webinars so I didn’t even have every evening free to write. I therefore assumed that, with full days available, I would get so much more writing done and at a quicker pace.
I have mastered the art of procrastination. I continually break from what I’m doing to:
Check my emails
Scroll through my social media feeds
Check my chart positions
See whether I have new reviews
The last two points are fair enough when it’s publication day or there’s a promotion on but it isn’t necessary several times every day outside that.
I don’t need to repeatedly check my emails and the scrolling through social media feeds is completely unnecessary, especially when the way I do it is so ineffective. I frequently find myself scrolling aimlessly, not resetting Facebook to ‘most recent’ so I am seeing posts I’ve already seen and I’m not interacting with any of them.
I dread to think how many hours I waste each day doing this. Yes, we are talking hours!
Linked to the above, I have absolutely no routine. I plonk myself down at my desk on a morning and am usually still there past 10pm. Argh! That’s not good.
When I had very little time to write, I used to just crack on with it. One hour to write? Okay, let’s do this!
Not so much now. With the whole day and week spread out before me, I don’t use it effectively. I spend ages staring into space. Sometimes I’m thinking about a plot point or piece of dialogue. Most of the time, I’m not.
I get distracted doing little bits of research when I would previously have put ‘CHECK THIS’ in the middle of my manuscript (MS) and come back to it later to avoid disrupting my flow.
I used to use the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) approach of just getting the words on the page and editing them later but I’ve started editing as I go again or spending ages trying to think of the perfect words to use instead of getting the intention down on the page and perfecting the words later.
I think having so much time spread before me is the problem. At the back of my mind, I knew this could be an issue as a very good friend of mine had become a full-time author a couple of years earlier and she experienced the same issue. When you have very little time, you’re very focused with it. When you have loads of time, you waste it.
I need to be so much more focused with my writing time.
As you can probably guess from what I’ve said about how many hours I spend at my desk, I don’t have one of these. I can’t remember the last time I did.
Last summer, I wrote a week-long series of blog posts about imposter syndrome and it was quite a revelation for me pinpointing what had triggered mine. It went back to my early twenties and continued throughout my working life where I was bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
We all know when we’re good at something or not (even though it’s very British to downplay our abilities) so I’m going to be very non-British and bold and declare that I was excellent at my job but I wasn’t good at playing the game. I didn’t network with the ‘right’ people. I didn’t ‘big myself up’ at work. I didn’t get involved in work politics. I didn’t stamp on others to get to where I wanted to be. I always hoped to progress on my own merits instead of because of who I knew. That strategy didn’t work! I therefore developed a workaholic approach, putting in way more effort and hours than were required in order to prove myself. And that approach became part of me and has never quite left me.
I find it very difficult to relax. I don’t like not being busy. I’m always doing something work-related and this isn’t good. This has exacerbated during the pandemic. Stuck at home? Might as well work then. So I did. Yet, as already stated, it hasn’t been time spent constructively.
Looking back, I have achieved a lot. In the year I’ve been a full-time author, I have:
Written three full-length novels, one of which required a complete re-write in edits
Completely re-written one of my backlist books as I wasn’t happy with the way it was written
Undertaken a full edit on another of my backlist
But I could have done more and … here’s the rub … in fewer hours if I hadn’t procrastinated, if I’d found a routine, and if I’d given myself a work life balance.
I think that the latter is one of the reasons why I procrastinate and don’t have a routine and it’s a vicious circle. I’m shattered because I don’t have any downtime so, when I do sit down at my desk, I can’t concentrate for long so I write a few hundred words and then get distracted. The words come more slowly because I’m tired but that means I need to sit at my desk longer to get the book written which means no work life balance which means I’m shattered so I procrastinate…
What can I do?
Only I can make the change. My husband challenged whether I should write fewer than four books a year to give me more time, but four books a year is absolutely do-able. The problem is that I don’t use the time effectively so it’s not the volume of work I need to change; it’s how I work.
I was fascinated by listening to a Facebook Live last week from fellow-Boldwood author Shari Low on the publication day of her latest novel, One Summer Sunrise. Shari talked about how quickly she writes her books and I was fascinated by it. She pretty much shuts herself off for a week or two and blitzes it. She doesn’t look at social media or go out. It’s a very intensive period with very long hours but the book gets written. Wow!
I wondered if she might put a huge amount of planning into it so that she knows exactly what she’s going to write but she’s a pantser, like me, just getting on with writing the idea she has. So this could work for me. If she’d planned first, that would be no good. I’m definitely not a planner with my writing.
I have started writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – and it’s going very slowly. This is partly because I have to do some research first and I’m struggling to find the detail I need so that’s holding me up, but it’s also because I’m procrastinating and because I have no routine. Next week isn’t a good week to try Shari’s approach as I am meeting up with my writing bestie, I have a hair appointment, and I have a cover reveal at the end of the week so need to be on social media. However, w/c 21st June is relatively clear in the diary so I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.
Every author is different and what works for one isn’t going to work for another but they say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I’ve been doing the same thing for the past year and it’s not effective so it’s time to experiment with something a little different. I’ll let you know how I get on.
I hope this approach does work for me as I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book and then time to do other things and be with my family outside of that. Of course, the process of writing the book doesn’t stop at that fortnight. There are still two rounds of edits, copy edits and proofreading stages but I think something radical is needed to stop me from working all these crazy hours.
Six years ago today on 23rd May 2015, my debut book was published. Happy anniversary to me!
I’ve written a few posts in the past celebrating all the amazing things that have happened since joining Boldwood Books in 2019 and my challenging journey prior to joining Boldwood. I’m therefore not looking to repeat that. Instead, I’m going to look back at what happened when I first became published as it was one of the most exciting but also one of the most stressful periods of time as one door opened but another closed.
My anniversary would originally have been 3rd June as that’s when my debut full-length novel Searching for Steven was released (now available under the revised title of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) but my publisher at the time had asked if I could write a short story to give away for free before publication day. It needed to be linked to the series (Searching for Steven was originally the start of a trilogy).
Well, I tried, but I’m not so good at thinking ‘small’ and ended up writing a novella!
We weren’t going to just give that away so it went up for sale as a 99p eBook on 23rd May 2015. It was called Raving About Rhys and, a few years later, I wrote a follow-up short novel called Callie’s Christmas Wish. These two have since joined together and are now available as Making Wishes at Bay View, the first book in the four-strong ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series.
I remembered staying up late the evening before both releases to watch them appearing on my Kindle at midnight which was a very surreal and magical experience. I know I barely slept at all after Searching for Steven was published as that was the big one: my proper, real, full-length debut novel.
These two publication days saw the start of a new era for me as I became a published author. Eek! But late May/early June that year also saw unexpected change.
I was a Learning & Development Advisor for a large food manufacturer at the time and the company had been going through some major restructuring so it had been quite a difficult period. The HR function was already slimmed down to the bones and a couple of job vacancies on the structure chart were removed so the remaining HR staff were given repeated reassurances that there would be no HR redundancies.
Guess who got made redundant?
It was a hell of a shock and the timing of it pretty much took the shine off the release of Raving About Rhys. I’d been out of the office for the week prior to Rhy’s release – which I’ve just realised makes it sound like he was coming out of prison! – running a special community event I’d organised for the apprentices I supported. It had been a huge piece of work which I’d planned to run with a colleague and good friend of mine who did the same role as me but for the more southerly factories. Last minute, she got pulled off it and I was told I had to run it on my own which was a disaster because the whole programme had been planned around two of us so I had to put copious extra hours in – including evenings and the weekend before the event – re-working everything we’d so carefully put together.
Thanks to all that additional hard work, the week with the apprentices went fairly smoothly but it was exhausting. I was so relieved that I’d tagged an extra day’s holiday on after Spring Bank Holiday Monday so I had four days to recover before returning to work.
I got back into the office on the Wednesday – four days after Raving About Rhys was published – and my manager asked if she could see me. She was working in a different building to me so I walked across the site thinking we were meeting for a debrief about the week. As soon her manager came into the room, my stomach sank and I knew something bad was about to happen. I frantically tried to think what it was that I might have done wrong as their sombre faces suggested I was in trouble. Job loss never entered my head.
I cried when they told me I’d been made redundant, but mainly because it was such a shock after the reassurances that nobody in HR would lose their job.
Even worse, I was the only one.
And even worse than that, the decision had been made several weeks previously but they’d wanted me to run the brilliant high-profile event I’d masterminded first!
That was a bit of a punch in the stomach. I did understand from a business perspective why they’d done that, but I was a little insulted that they might think I’d be so unprofessional to run a sub-standard event just because I’d lost my job. If they knew me at all, they’d have known that’s not how I work and, if anything, I’d have pulled out all the stops to make it even bigger and better in order to leave an impressive legacy behind.
What also hurt was that they’d taken my support away from me, meaning I had re-work the entire thing and have the most stressful week ever, when they could have softened the blow of redundancy by letting that week run as planned.
Fortunately, I’d put feelers out with a local recruitment agency during the apprentices week as, although I definitely hadn’t foreseen redundancy, I wasn’t happy with the way things had been heading lately. The apprentice week incident had been the last of many uncomfortable situations.
The day before I was made redundant, while I was on holiday, I’d coincidentally had a conversation with the recruitment agency to explore my CV and consider if there may be an opportunity to join the team, but I had no idea if that would come to anything. I had years of recruitment experience in big and small companies but never in an agency role and I wasn’t sure if my skills would be a good fit.
On Wednesday 3rd June when Searching for Steven was released, I was out of work. I had been invited back to the recruitment agency for a conversation the following week and I had to keep focusing on the hope that it would be a positive outcome otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my special moment for worry about the future.
I had a launch party for my friends and family on Saturday 6th June and still had no idea whether I had a job. My dream was to write full-time but I was under no illusion about how unlikely this was. I knew the statistics. The vast majority of published authors make less than £10k a year from their writing and most make nowhere near that. I wasn’t with a big publisher. I wasn’t even with an established publisher. If I made £100 in the year, I’d probably be doing well! So it was essential that I found myself another HR job.
The problem with where I live is that HR roles are few and far between. Those that exist tend to be more generalist (dealing with contracts, grievance and discipline, ill health and so on) and that’s not where my expertise (or interest) lay. I was a recruitment and training specialist; roles usually associated with large companies in their head offices and not many companies had HQs in Scarborough. I’d just been made redundant from the biggest!
My launch party was emotional and I remember being in floods of tears a couple of days before when I had it confirmed that the printer had made a mistake and I wouldn’t have any books. A launch party with no books? Well, that was certainly going to be interesting. My publisher had a couple of sample copies that they could send to me so I could at least show what the book looked like and, bless them, they sent me a gorgeous teddy bear to say sorry, but it did mean the day I’d dreamed of for years wasn’t going to be quite as I’d hoped.
Despite the lack of books, the party went reasonably well but it was a boiling hot day and there was no air-con so everyone was melting, especially me.
Hubby was going to take photographs but got so distracted talking to people that he didn’t get a chance so I have very few photos of the event.
My sister in law made an amazing cake and I completely forgot to cut it. I didn’t get to speak to half the guests and I didn’t manage to get any buffet to eat so I was starving and my celebratory wine went straight to my head.
But it was still lovely and I’m so appreciative of everyone who came, some of whom had travelled quite some distance, and all the lovely and unexpected gifts.
The following week, I did get a job offer to join the recruitment consultancy and, after serving my notice on gardening leave (lovely), I started in early July.
Just to close the loop on that, it didn’t work out in the end. Eek!
It was a learning experience on both parts. I might have skills and experience at recruitment but what the role needed was a salesperson and I’m not that. I shed so many tears knowing I was a square peg in a round hole, loving the company and the team, but hating the role itself, knowing that I’d be found out at any moment.
The first few months were a fluke because I was able to secure business with a large manufacturer the agency had been desperate to work with for ages. I’d worked there many years before and one of the managers had rated me highly and was delighted to work with me again. On the back of that, I filled several vacancies, secured bonuses, and was crowned ’employee of the month’.
But once those vacancies were filled, the reality was I couldn’t do the job and that was a horrible position to be in as I’ve always been good at roles I’ve previously held.
There were no other roles around so I couldn’t jump ship, even though I wanted to. The day my manager called me into a room and said ‘this isn’t working’, I also cried. Shock? Yes. Relief? Oh, yes! Time to pack up my desk again…
Fortunately, I’d put feelers out once more. I’d held a very part-time job for several years as an internal verifier for a company who offered the HR professional qualification by distance learning. I’d been scheduled to verify a tutor on a workshop but, when his wife took ill, I was asked if I could train the workshop instead and had the opportunity to meet the manager who managed the tutors as he was tutoring on a workshop that same weekend. I explained my predicament and asked him if they might be looking for any more tutors. It so happened that they would be as the company had expansion plans for later in the year. Yay!
I got straight onto the phone to him while I was waiting for hubby to pick me up after losing my job at the recruitment agency and, within a couple of weeks, I’d secured a tutoring role alongside the verifying role and did that for the next five years.
Last June – roughly five years on from first being published – I marked my final assignment and became a full-time author. This was always my dream although the struggles I had in the first five years as a published author meant I never expected to achieve it. I never gave up hope, though.
To all the readers and bloggers/reviewers who have been with me since the beginning or those who’ve discovered my writing more recently, I cannot thank you enough for putting this square peg firmly in a matching square hole. I’ve finally found my place.
And to my editor Nia and the team at Boldwood Books, you know how grateful I am for being selected as one of the first twenty authors when you first set up and for everything you have done to take my books to an international audience and achieve so many dreams. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.
So I’ll raise a glass (of water – it is only lunchtime after all) and toast a happy sixth anniversary. And it truly is a happy one now that I’ve found the place I was always meant to be.
To quote Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are they day you are born and the day you find out why”. The day I became an author was the day I found out why, but this last year or so has been the year I’ve experienced why. The gorgeous reviews, social media posts, and messages from readers about how much my books have meant to them have meant so much to me.
My hubby had canvases made for me on the publication day for Searching for Steven with Rhys’s and Steven’s covers on them and the Mark Twain quote. It hangs above my desk and I look at it several times each day and am so grateful to have found my purpose in life.