The one with a lovely writing start to the New Year

Happy New Year!

I hope you’ve had a lovely day so far. Mine has been a very ordinary Saturday – doing a stack of washing, the dog has been for a groom, and I’m doing some prep work for something I’m involved in online throughout January. But, actually, I like that it’s been back to normality. I really struggle with the feeling after Christmas Day that I’m on holiday but not actually away on holiday.

Writing-wise, two of my books have hit amazing reviews milestones today.

Reviews for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café came in slowly and steadily at first which we expected as it was released in late August and we knew a lot of readers would save it until they picked up their wintery/Christmas reads.

I noticed reviews coming in much quicker during December with 1,500 reached mid-month. With that sort of momentum, I hoped that it might hit the whopping 2,000 milestone on Kindle before the end of the year.

It actually hit it this morning and, across the day, an astonishing 50 reviews/ratings have been added taking it way past that and 92% are positive. If you’d like to see why readers are loving it so much, it’s still on a 99p deal and you can buy it on Kindle UK here.

In the meantime, I’ve been willing the hedgehogs along. Book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, hit a 3,000 milestone a few months back and book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, has been edging closer but not quite making it. Until today. 3,000 reviews/ratings! Woo hoo! And 94% of them are positive!

On Kindle, the series has attracted a whopping 9,068 reviews/ratings so far. Add in a further 636 on Apple Books and an amazing 1,712 on Audible, and there’s definitely a lot of love around for those hedgehogs.

Which is just as well as book 4 will be out on Thursday (6th January). Eek! It can be pre-ordered for Kindle UK here and Audible UK here.

Happy New Year to you and thank you so much to everyone who has left reviews/ratings for any of my books but especially these two milestone-achievers.

Big New Year hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I thank you all for your support in 2021 and wish you a fabulous 2022

Last year, I wrote a really detailed blog post looking back over 2020, broken down into the highs and lows of each quarter in what was a very strange year for us all. It was really interesting reading it earlier so I decided to replicate something similar for 2021.

I’ve just spent three hours working on it, pulling together everything that happened across the year, and I’ve lost the will to continue. Not because there aren’t amazing highs to share or that it isn’t interesting to look back but simply because I think it’s more interesting for me than my readers. So I’ve ditched it.

Instead, I’m going to write a much shorter thank you post to those who have made 2021 another special year for me professionally.

Thank you in no particular order to:

  • Everyone who has supported me and my books this year. To my readers and listeners, thank you so much for buying, borrowing, streaming, reviewing, promoting, and recommending some or all of my books
  • Anyone who has participated in a blog tour (especially those who’ve joined them all) and to the amazing Rachel Gilbey for organising these
  • Readers/reviewers who have named one or more of my books as their favourites of the year. What an absolute honour!
  • Bloggers/reviewers who’ve kindly featured me on their blogs/websites as a guest this year
  • Readers who’ve sent me messages or emails telling me what my stories have meant to them
  • The amazing members of my Facebook community, Redland’s Readers, who share their love of the worlds I’ve created and gorgeous pictures of hedgehogs, lighthouses, the sea and so on
  • The admins and members of some fabulous book communities for embracing and promoting my work including The Friendly Book Community, Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club, Jenny Colgan and More Great Books and Book Swap Central
  • The Boldwood readers community who voted for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café as the first #BoldBookClub readalong and shared their thoughts, and to the fabulous Claire Fenby for creating this
  • Sharon Booth, super talented author, for friendship and encouragement
  • The Write Romantics, my original writing family, for friendship and support through the highs and lows of our journeys – Jo Bartlett, Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury, Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne), Lynne Pardoe, Helen Phifer, Helen Rolfe, Rachel Thomas, Alys West
  • All the fabulous authors at Team Boldwood, most of whom I’ve only met virtually, for being so friendly and supportive
  • New friends I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year including the lovely Eliza J Scott
  • A wonderful community of authors who’ve been shared posts and been amazing in the author community. Too many to name but I specifically want to shout out to Sandy Barker, Kim Nash (aka Kim the Bookworm) and Ian Wilfred who have done so much for me and other authors this year
  • My mum for being my biggest fan who shows unwavering interest in everything that’s happening with my books
  • My brilliant husband Mark for being the most supportive and understanding husband ever, and our gorgeous daughter Ashleigh for never moaning about how much time I spend drifting off in my fictional worlds
  • Everyone involved in the process of getting my books to the market – Cecily my copy editor, Sue my proofreader, Debbie my cover designer and Megan at Boldwood preparing all the books for digital upload and distribution
  • The amazing team of narrators and distributors at ISIS Audio and Ulverscroft
  • The amazing library staff who’ve stocked and promoted my books/audiobooks, especially Middlesbrough Libraries who had me as their author of the month during December
  • The Works for taking another two of my books this year and specifically to the manager Jamie and her fabulous team at The Works Scarborough for being so welcoming and promoting my books to their customers
  • The RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) for championing romantic fiction and challenging the appalling snobbery this genre receives
  • The best editor in the world ever, Nia Beynon, for editing excellence, empathy, and encouragement. Fifteen books down, nine to go… and hopefully many more after that!
  • And last, but by no means least, the whole team at Boldwood Books for another amazing year. Five more books released, three of them brand new, and sales of half a million earlier this year have been phenomenal. Amanda our CEO continues to drive an innovative, inspirational publisher where the author is at the centre of everything they do. I can’t wait to see what new ideas 2022 brings

I hope 2021 has brought you kindness and happiness, despite the continued strangeness and I send you best wishes for 2022. Hope the year starts well and brings dreams and wishes fulfilled.

Big New Year hugs
Jessica xx

I’ll finish with a gallery of some of this years writing-related highs including five new releases, two books into The Works, an Italian translation, an amazing competition in conjunction with Lucy Pittaway artist, and so much more …

The one with 2 audiobook offers, 2 milestones & a trip to Whitby

Five more sleeps until Christmas. Eek! Are you all sorted? We had a quick nip into town first thing, before it got busy, and bought the last of our gifts. I wrapped them as soon as I got back so I think we’re there now.

AUDIOBOOK OFFERS

If you’re an Audible UK subscriber and fancy something Christmassy to listen to while you’re wrapping the gifts or preparing the Christmas dinner, look no further because Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop is in their sale for £3 right now. It was a thrill to see the audiobooks storming straight into the Top 100 and almost getting into the Top 50, peaking (so far) at #51.

If you’d like something non-Christmassy to listen to, the third book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove, is also £3 in the sale. It was meant to be on this offer a few weeks back but it didn’t get activated so they’ve added it in now. It also went straight into the Top 100, peaking (so far) at #65 which is so lovely to see.

It was also special to see them side by side in the two top positions in the audio Women’s Fiction chart…

These sales usually last a week but, because of Christmas, they’re on for a fortnight, ending on 3rd January 2022.

Thank you to all the lovely listeners who have bought them during the Audible sale so far. Please do spread the word!

MILESTONES

I’ve had a couple more reviews/ratings milestones on Amazon in the past few days. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop has hit the 1,000 mark and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage, the fourth and final book in the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series has hit 1,500.

An enormous thank you to anyone who has helped them get to these amazing milestones. I have to still pinch myself to see my books having so many reviews.

A TRIP TO WHITBY

And, finally, we had a lovely trip up the coast to Whitby yesterday. I was concerned it might be a little busy as there are lots of delightful gift shops, ideal for Christmas gifts, but it was actually fairly deserted. The weather probably didn’t help as it was cold, misty and damp as you can probably tell from the photos.

There’s a fabulous heritage trail with amazing wire sculptures depicting the fishing industry in Whitby. Hubby snapped these couple of pics. I love how you can see iconic images in the background like the lighthouse on the one on the left and St Mary’s Church (near Whitby Abbey) in the one on the right. There were several other sculptures and hopefully we’ll return soon and go round them all.

There’s s a lifeboat station at Whitby and, on the other side of the river, an RNLI shop where the lifeboat station used to be. I couldn’t resist a few purchases, especially when Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café strongly features the RNLI in its storyline.

The quote on the tote bag and the wooden box – the call from Sir William Hillary, founder of the RNLI in 1823 to form a national institution to save lives at sea – appears at the start of the book and is a recurring theme throughout. I love it so much.

There’s a branch of The Works there so we popped in to see if they had any of my books in. Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café appeared to have sold through but the hedgehogs were there. I definitely don’t think they’ll sell through quickly this side of Christmas when readers of this genre are after their festive reads, but hopefully they’ll fly off the shelves in the New Year.

On the Abbey side of the river, there are two lovely discount bookshops on the same street almost opposite each other, one having a range of books, jigsaws and toys – Good Reads Whitby – and the other focusing purely on Whitby with Whitby-based books, merchandise, photographs etc.

Whenever we see an independent bookshop, I like to go inside to see whether there are any of my books or books by Boldwood Buddies. This is because, when there’s a print run from The Works, more books than they need are printed to make the low cost of selling them financially viable. The excess are bought by a third party and distributed round the UK to indie bookshops, garden centres, post offices, local supermarkets etc., and others go abroad, particularly to Canada to an online retailer/bookstore called Indigo.

We paused to look in the window and how delighted was I to see Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café in there! What a treat!

Inside, there were loads of Boldwood Buddies which is always so exciting to see. And two more of my books! There were copies of Making Wishes at Bay View and The Secret to Happiness.

So if you live in or near Whitby and didn’t get a chance to pick up these books while they were in The Works, now’s your chance!

Big Christmassy hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I signed New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow in The Works

I posted over the weekend to say that New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – the second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – had appeared online at The Works and also in stores but I hadn’t seen copies in my local branch.

The munchkin stays for drama club after school on a Monday so I need to pick her up and it’s on the other side of town. I arrived early today but she’d got out early which gave us just enough time to nip into town on the way home and scoot to The Works to see if my book was in. And it was!

The lovely manager Jamie was there and she’d been hoping I’d appear. The books were placed on the shelves on Saturday and half of them have already sold which was exciting so I only had a pile of five to sign but I’ve now done that.

Please excuse the state of me in these photos! This was an impromptu visit prompted by the munchkin being early so I have no make-up on, haven’t run a brush through my hair, and have my super-casual jogging pants on. But that didn’t detract from the excitement of signing copies of my paperbacks in a real shop. This is the fifth book of mine in there and the fourth time I’ve signed copies (never entered my head to ask the first time) and I don’t think it will ever get boring!

It was lovely to hear Jamie telling me that Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot had sold out really quickly and that they’ve had customers in really excited to get their hands on New Arrivals, hence half of them selling already. I also massively appreciate that they always place my books in the eye line buy line position in the middle of the shelves.

Thank you to Jamie and all the staff in The Works Scarborough who are always so welcoming and friendly.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Celebrating a super sales milestone

Last week, I had a Zoom meeting with my publisher where they shared the most amazing news about a milestone that my book sales have achieved. I wanted to write a blog post about it, but I was chasing a deadline and could only manage a quick share on the socials. Thank you so much for all the amazing and supportive comments I received. I appreciated them so much.

The milestone was a whopping 500k – or half a million (sounds more somehow!) – sales of my books through Boldwood Books. This is across all formats and all titles released through Boldwood from my first one – The Secret to Happiness – which was released in September 2019 right up to the end of September 2021, therefore covering a two-year period and thirteen titles, although two of those had only just been released in August so haven’t had a chance to gather many sales yet.

If you’ve followed my blog or my journey for a while, you’ll understand how much this milestone means to me and what a big deal it is after such a shaky start as an author.

When I secured a 3-book publishing deal with my debut novel back in 2014 – following 23 rejections – I thought I’d made it. You would, wouldn’t you? I actually had two offers come through round about the same time so had a very happy decision on my hands. My first full-length novel through my chosen publisher was released in June 2015 but we released a novella just before it which acted as a great introduction to the series. The remaining books came out in March 2016 and August 2016 respectively. My publishers were lovely and enthusiastic but they were a new entrant to the market and had overestimated their ability to make an impact. Having achieved fewer than 1,500 sales across the four titles in the space of 18 months, the publisher ceased trading and my rights were returned in autumn 2017. It was a crushing blow.

My husband hurriedly designed some new covers and, in November 2016, we released all 4 Kindle books as an independent author under the imprint ‘Little Bear Books’, Little Bear being my nickname. They tanked. That first November, I sold no eBooks. In December, I sold 7. In January, I sold 6. I’m sure you can imagine how soul-destroying that was!

I’d been working on another new novel which was called Bear With Me (since re-edited and rereleased through Boldwood as All You Need Is Love) and I thought that a new book on the market would make a huge difference. It made little impact.

A couple of Christmas releases in October finally gathered some momentum but, on the whole, I massively struggled as an indie author. I had days where I sold no books at all and, as the number of books I’d written steadily rose, that was increasingly disheartening. The frustrating thing was that those who read my books seemed to love them, but readers weren’t finding them. I did several free promotions in the hope that reading one book would generate sales of other books. It didn’t seem to. I knew I needed to spend time and money investing in advertising but where do you find time when you’re already working 7 days a week with the day job and where do you find money when writing isn’t making you any? It’s a Catch-22 situation where you need to invest to earn but you need to earn to be able to invest.

I decided to go on another round of submissions in late 2018 but, after being burnt first time around, was very selective about where I submitted. I received another 8 rejections, although some were from the same publisher for different books after giving me positive feedback and an open invitation to keep submitting. Each rejection made me crumble a little more and seriously question whether I was kidding myself that I had any talent. But writing is who I am. I couldn’t imagine not creating stories so I kept going even though it was looking like writing full-time was a dream I’d never achieve and that making it financially viable alongside a demanding full-time day job wasn’t looking good either.

And then Boldwood Books started up and I submitted on their very first day. I’d decided that this was my final attempt and, if it was a no too, I’d remain an indie author and keep hoping … or finally admit defeat. Thank goodness they said yes!

I’ve just done some number crunching. During my indie years – November 2016 to August 2019 – I sold 4,789 eBooks and gave away a frightening 3,558 eBooks for free, meaning ‘sales’ totalled 8,347 in just shy of 3 years. Add in my original publisher’s sales and we’re talking 9,814 copies shifted (only 6,256 of which generated any income) across 9 books in the space of 4 years and 2 months. Eek! This figure doesn’t include pages read on Kindle Unlimited as there isn’t an easy way for me to work out the equivalent of that in books sold.

So to have half a million sales in two years – an increase of about 5000% – makes for on extremely excitable, astonished and happy author. As a very rough calculation (if I’ve done my maths correctly), that’s an average 6 books a day (including the free ones) pre-Boldwood and 657 a day post-Boldwood. A tad different!

I have so many people to thank, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible:

  • My readers and listeners – whether you’ve supported me since the start or I’ve been recent discovery for you, I can’t thank you enough for falling in love with Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow

    All the amazing bloggers and reviewers who have spread the word through your blogs and/or the socials, and recommended my books to your friends and followers. This is one of the most amazing things you can do for an author you love as recommendations make such a massive difference

    The amazing Facebook writing communities such as the wonderful The Friendly Book Community, Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club, and Jenny Colgan and More Great Books for your unwavering support and recommendations

    The wonderfully lovely members of my own Facebook group, Redland’s Readers, who make me smile every day with their hedgehog pictures and gorgeous feedback

    Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources who organises my blog tours for Boldwood but who also arranged several for me as an indie author. Thank you for such fabulous tours and for being a champion of my stories from the very start. I’m so grateful
  • My original writing family, The Write Romantics, for being there through the highs and lows of this bumpy journey, particularly Sharon Booth and Jo Bartlett who have helped raise me up or helped me unravel troublesome plot points. You are all absolute stars
  • My more recently adopted family, Boldwood Books. Not only have I achieved so many writing dreams since joining Boldwood, but I’ve joined the most fabulous group of people. Thank you to Amanda and Nia for believing in me and taking me on in the first place, to Claire and Megan behind the scenes, to those involved in all other aspects of the book’s journey – cover design, copy editing, proofreading – and all the wonderful authors who are so friendly and supportive
  • A second mention to my phenomenal editor, Nia Beynon, whose brilliant advice and editorial guidance is what shapes my words into the final version the readers and listeners experience and I could never have achieved this without her. Nia, I can’t thank you enough for being such a dream to work with
  • My amazing audiobook narrators – Lucy Brownhill, Emma Swan, James Dryden and Gareth Bennett-Ryan – for bringing the books to life and the team at ISIS Audio and Ulverscroft for the distribution
  • My mum, daughter and husband for being so amazingly supportive

I’m the first Boldwood author to have reached this milestone, although that’s mainly because I’m also the author with the most books released so far due to Boldwood taking on my entire backlist. My next target is to have an individual title join the 100k club. The first one to get there will be Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, the first book in the Hedgehog Hollow series although, with sales so far just below 77k, it’s still got a little way to go. Several of my Boldwood buddies have already achieved this, some with more than one book, which is absolutely phenomenal!

Thank you again, everyone. Here’s to the next half a million!

Big enormous happy hugs
Jessica xx

PS Apologies for the missing bullet points. I swear I’ve added them in but WordPress is refusing to play ball!

A happy dance for the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series

I’m delighted to say that all four books in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series have now passed the 1,000 reviews/ratings milestone on Amazon and want to thank every single reader who has taken the time to leave a review or rating, especially if it’s a positive one!

Book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay Viewwas the first to get there quite a few months ago and has already passed the 1,500 milestone, next stop 2,000. This made sense to me as the first book in a series is often the most widely read.

Book 4 got there next – Coming Home to Seashell Cottageand is well on its way to the 1,500 milestone now. Again, this made sense to me as, reading the reviews, quite a lot of readers have referred to the whole series as though they have perhaps just rated the final one.

It was therefore a battle between New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (book 3) as to which would get to 1,000 first. Seaside Blooms took that crown nearly a fortnight ago on 16th September and, at the time, Lighthouse Cove only needed seven more reviews to reach the milestone. But there were none the next day… or the day after.

Finally, today, book 3 was jubilant and hit the big 1,000.

Between the four books and the box set, there are well over 5,000 reviews/ratings on Amazon and 92% of those are a positive 4- or 5-star rating. I’m thrilled that readers have taken this series to their hearts and shown such love for Callie, Sarah, Elise and Clare’s stories.

No matter how many books I write, this will always remain an exceptionally special series for me as it’s where my writing journey started. I often get asked which my favourite book is and I love them all for different reasons.

Seaside Blooms, although book 2 in the series, is the first book I wrote so that will always hold a very special place in my heart. Seashell Cottage is probably my favourite story as I felt something shift in my author voice when I wrote that story, moving from a lighter romcom style into the deeper emotional women’s fiction category. Clare fascinated me as she arrived on the pages of Seaside Blooms all feisty, spiky and guarded and I didn’t know why. It was a wonderful thing unwrapping her story in book 4.

But I love Making Wishes because octogenarian Ruby is one of the most fun and fabulous characters I’ve ever created, and Lighthouse Cove has one of my favourite romances in it. So, yes, I love them all and I’m thrilled that readers do too. Thank you again.

A huge thank you also to my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, and my brilliant editor Nia Beynon without whom I wouldn’t be celebrating milestones like this.

What a lovely start to the week. If you haven’t yet taken a trip to Whitsborough Bay, I hope you’ll be tempted to dive in.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Signing Starry Skies in The Works

On Tuesday this week, I posted the exciting news that Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café – my Boldwood Christmas release from last year – had gone online at The Works.

I was in town for an eye test on Wednesday and it hadn’t gone onto the shelves of my local store but I needed to go into town again today to help hubby pick some frames for his new glasses and was excited to pop into the Scarborough branch to find that the festive books had arrived.

The staff in there are lovely and immediately moved the copies to ‘eye level – buy level’ (not at my request, I hasten to add) and cleared some space for me to sign the copies. I have no idea why I still had my sunglasses on in the above pic or my bag on my shoulder. Too excited!

And, yes, that is a hedgehog dress! It’s a Popsy and, since I discovered Popsy Clothing last year, I’ve been hoping they’d introduce a hedgehog print design and was thrilled when it came into stock last week. You can find this particular design here. I love it. It has a blouson style top which I’d worried might be tight on me but thankfully isn’t, and pockets. Gotta love a dress with pockets!

I can’t imagine I’ll ever tire of seeing my books in a shop and being able to sign them. Thank you so much to the lovely team for letting me do that.

If you do spot one in your local store, I’d love you to take a shelfie and tag me into it on social media.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Celebrating three review milestones in two days

Some authors steer clear of their reviews and I can completely understand why. A negative review can be so hurtful and destructive that it can leave them unable to write for the rest of the day and sometimes even longer. I know that to be true as it’s happened to me.

But not all reviews are negative and it seems a shame not to read the lovely comments shared by readers who’ve loved a story. I feel they’re so special and something to celebrate. I therefore read every single review posted on Amazon, including the negative ones. The latter do still hurt but they are massively outweighed by the positives and I’ve been working hard to keep the negative few in perspective.

This week, I’ve been thrilled to reach review/ratings milestones for three of my books. Woo hoo!

Just under a month ago, I announced in my Facebook readers group that three books were heading for the 1,000 milestone and asked members which they thought would get there first:

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms at 980

Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove at 957

All You Need Is Love at 949

As the first two have been out a year longer and the rate of reviews had massively slowed, I did wonder if All You Need Is Love might just race ahead. It came very close but Seaside Blooms pipped it to the post. Just.

I logged on yesterday morning and New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms had hit the 1,000 mark.

And then, this morning, there was a surprise. A book not even previously in the race – The Secret to Happiness – had stormed ahead hitting the bigger target of 2,000!

Not to be outdone, All You Need Is Love also hit the 1,000 mark this morning. I knew the bears could do it!

Finding Lighthouse Cove isn’t far off the target either with 993 reviews/ratings at the time of writing this so hopefully we’ll be celebrating that milestone by the start of next week. Come on Lighthouse Cove. You can do it!

To all those lovely readers who have taken the time to share a review – whether detailed, a couple of sentences, a few words or even just a rating – I am so grateful. I get such a buzz out of reading all the gorgeous comments and it drives me to keep writing and wanting to bring you loads more books.

Please keep sharing the book love for all your favourite authors as you never know when a few kind words might be the lift they need at a time when they’re struggling with edits or deadlines, feeling disillusioned by lower sales or weaker chart positions, have been wounded by a negative comment, and may be questioning whether it’s all worth it. You really can make a difference. No pressure!

Big squidgy grateful hugs to you all
Jessica xx

The story behind the story of All You Need Is Love

All You Need Is Love was added into Prime Reading at the start of last week so is available as a FREE eBook for those who subscribe. It’s also FREE – along with all my other books – to those in Kindle Unlimited. And if you’re not a Prime reader, you can grab it for only 99p or overseas equivalent on Apple, Kindle, Kobo and Nook so it’s a great time to pick up this book if you haven’t already read it.

Here’s the blurb and then I’ll tell you a bit about the story behind the story:

When you’ve loved and lost, how do you find the strength to let love in again?

Jemma thinks she’s found the love of her life. Scott is everything she ever dreamed of and she can’t wait to begin the next stage of their life together. But just as she is heading for her happy ever after, a shock revelation shatters Jemma’s life as she knows it. Left to pick up the pieces, Jemma’s friends and family rally round to help her find the courage to move on.

Sam think he has his future all worked out. A thriving career, lovely home and an amazing fiancée. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself alone, far from everyone he cares about. Did he do the right thing by running away and trying to rebuild the tatters of his life alone?

This is the story of Jemma and Sam. Two lost souls, desperately trying to find closure and happiness. When a chance meeting brings them together a friendship is formed, but the guards are up. 

Will it finally be their turn for a happy ever after? Or will the secrets from their pasts prevent them from moving on?

I wrote this book across 2016-17 and originally released it as an indie author in April 2017 under the title Bear With Me. My publishers, Boldwood Books, acquired the rights to all my back catalogue and Bear With Me was taken down from sale last year, given a fresh edit, and re-released as All You Need Is Love in March this year.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means that I typically have an idea for a story and I let it write itself. Therefore a lot of the plot points unfold as I write and often take me by surprise but I always know what the premise and setting will be right from the start.

For All You Need Is Love, the setting was the starting point. I’d always wanted to write a story set in a specialist teddy bear shop because I’m an arctophile – collector/lover of teddy bears – and I used to have my own specialist bear shop so I had direct experience I could draw on.

Me in Bear’s Pad after winning the Best Newcomer Award in 2004

My shop was called Bear’s Pad and was based at the top of a street called Finkle Street in Richmond, North Yorkshire. I set it up from scratch and ran it for two years from May 2003, closing it down because I’d married and moved to Scarborough which was two hours away.

Some days in the shop were amazing with great sales and fabulous conversations with bear-mad customers. Some days were horrendous. Here’s a few examples of some of my more traumatic days:

  • A local woman who used to delight in visiting the independent sole traders in town and telling them their business would fail because all new businesses did. The first time I met her, she spent an hour in the shop telling me this and she made me cry
  • Turning up on several occasions to find that somebody had vomited in my doorway and having to clear that up before opening for the day
  • A woman in with her daughter who asked if I had a toilet the daughter could use. I said no (I wasn’t insured to let the public use my toilet which was out the back by the safe and spare stock) but explained that the public toilets were 2 minutes’ away. Instead of taking her daughter to the toilets, she continued looking round and her poor daughter wet herself on my floor. Which would have been easily cleaned up if I had tiles or wooden flooring but I had carpet tiles. The mother then abandoned the items she was going to buy and stormed out telling me it was my fault for not letting her use my toilet and leaving me to clean up the mess. Needless to say, she never returned to buy the abandoned items
  • A really ‘lovely’ man came in wanting a large plush bear from the top of a cabinet. The shop was busy and I said he could get it down himself, especially as he was taller than me, but he made out he didn’t want to knock anything and could I do it. So I locked the till and helped him. He said he’d go to the ATM, get some money, and be back later. It had all been a distraction. His accomplice (who I hadn’t noticed at all) had tried to empty the till but couldn’t because I’d locked it, but he stole my mobile phone from under the till instead. They’d been working their way round the town targeting the smaller businesses
  • A woman asked if I’d be interested in stocking some pictures she’d painted of teddy bears. They were lovely but I was only willing to do this on sale or return basis as I had no idea if they’d sell. She told me how much she wanted for them and I told her the mark-up I’d need to put on them to ensure the space I gave them earned the same as other products. She was fine with that. Until they didn’t sell and she stormed in one day to collect them, hurling abuse at me about how they’d have sold if I wasn’t such a “greedy cow” for how I’d priced them!
  • Only making £4 of sales one day because it rained non-stop and I only had one customer all day
  • Several shoplifting incidents
  • Mums sending their children to ‘play in the bear shop’ while they went on a sunbed in the tanning salon opposite, leaving me with a random child or two to ‘babysit’ who touched everything, dropped lots of things, and had no money to spend

I could easily have written a book set purely in a bear shop and included these incidents and many more but it wouldn’t have made a story as they’re all anecdotes, although these incidents may well appear in other books as it’s all good material. A story is made up of so much more than a series of bad days so it wasn’t about me replicating my experiences of running my own teddy bear shop.

I was also conscious that not everyone understands the idea of an adult collecting teddy bears and I didn’t want to risk alienating readers so I didn’t want to have the whole story set in a bear shop.

My idea was for a mother and daughter team, Jemma and Julie, who were keen arctophiles and bear artists (makers of teddy bears) but to have the mum owning the shop rather than the daughter, therefore only using the bear shop as a partial setting.

I established Jemma’s mum Julie as the owner/manager specialist teddy bear shop Bear With Me on Castle Street in Whitsborough Bay but positioned Jemma as a curator at a children’s museum in London who, despite living far away, was very close to her mum and younger brother.

I needed a way for Jemma to return to Whitsborough Bay and had an idea to do that on the back of Julie being diagnosed with a life-changing illness. I went back and forth between several conditions but settled on Parkinson’s. My auntie had recently been diagnosed with it and my parents’ next-door neighbour had it and was very willing for me to spend some time quizzing her about all aspects of living with Parkinson’s. The chance to speak to someone directly was invaluable so my decision was made.

What I was really keen to show was not just the impact Parkinson’s could have on the person with it but also on their family. Because the story is told from Jemma’s perspective rather than Julie’s, I’m able to do this.

This story is a dual perspective one. It’s the first book I wrote in this way and the first time I tackled a male perspective too. At the start of the book, Sam’s and Jemma’s lives are unconnected but, as the story progresses, they meet through a mutual friend when Sam, a neurologist, provides Jemma with some advice and expertise in relation to Julie’s diagnosis.

I can’t remember where the idea of the dual perspective came from. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do this but equally don’t remember starting writing single POV and then changing it to dual. I therefore suspect it was something that just felt right for this story.

As for everything else that happens in All You Need Is Love, that’s completely down to the characters and where their stories took me.

Authors are often asked which their favourite book is that they’ve written and it’s a really difficult question to answer. Quite often, books will be special for different reasons. I don’t have an outright favourite from my backlist but All You Need Is Love is definitely one of my favourites. I love Jemma and her family so much, I love Sam, and I love their story. It’s such a beautiful tale of having loved and lost and trying to find the courage to take the chance of letting love in again.

Because I love this story so much, I do struggle to understand why it has the fewest sales out of all my books. There’ll always be a weaker-performing book but I do wonder why it’s this one. Thankfully those who read it do seem to love it so hopefully being in Prime reading and on a 99p offer will generate more interest.

Under the previous guise of Bear With Me, I did wonder if the teddy bear-themed title and blurb might put off anyone who isn’t interested in teddy bears, but the new version has no mention of bears and it still hasn’t sold as well as my other books. Strange. If you are a reader who doesn’t feel excited by bears, please do give it a try. Any bear-related details are gently fed into the storyline and don’t provide the main focus of the book so please don’t let that deter you from diving in. I have several reviews where readers ay they weren’t bear fans but they now are!

As I write this, I’m thrilled to see the bears climbing back up the charts. The eBook is currently just outside the Top 300 on Amazon at #309. The previous highest was #127 when on a BookBub promotion in April. They’re also Top 50 in the Prime Reading chart and Top 20 in the Romance Prime Reading chart. Go bears go! Do us proud!

Big bear-hugs
Jessica xx

The hedgehogs pass a 6,000 milestone but I’m feeling the fear for book 4

Less than a week ago, I reported that the third book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed a whopping 1,500 reviews/ratings milestone over on Amazon. It’s gone a bit beyond that now:

Book 3

A little while before that I’d reported that book 1 – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed 2,000. It has also exceeded that since:

Book 1

The hedgehogs have been waiting for book 2 – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – to meet another milestone so they could have a big party and celebrate milestones for all three.

And yesterday book 2 reached it, passing the 2,500 mark. Woo hoo! Go hedgehogs go!

Book 2

New Arrivals only came out in January so that milestone has been reached in a little over five months but Family Secrets was only published six weeks ago today and is already storming towards the 2,000 mark.

I’d been surprised when New Arrivals gathered more reviews than Finding Love as I’d have thought that readers would have read the series in order and, as there’s an inevitability that some readers won’t love it, the numbers of reviews would dip with each book. However, with the rate that Family Secrets is gathering reviews, I don’t think it will be long before it has the most.

I do read all my reviews and I know that several readers say they loved book 2 or book 3 and will go back to read the one(s) they missed so that could account for some disparity. Or perhaps a reader who reads two or three back to back only leaves a review for the latest? I guess I’ll never get to the bottom of it.

What’s interesting is that for my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay View – has the most reviews/ratings but book 4 – Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – isn’t far behind … but that both supports and contradicts my theory above!

There was a time with the Hedgehog Hollow series when it seemed that the love for the hedgehogs got stronger with each book. While Family Secrets is still storming ahead with a whopping 83% 5-star ratings/reviews, the other two are pretty much equal. Both of them have an accidental 1-star rating where the review talks about how much the reader has loved it, one for HH1 even saying ‘one of my favourite books of late’ but the reader has managed to click on the 1-star instead of the 5-star rating which is a shame.

There are some cutting reviews for all three books, especially the 1-star for HH1 entitled ‘total waste of time’ but I do find it easier to cope with those these days. It certainly helps looking at all the hedgehog love. I remind myself it’s just one person’s opinion and you can’t please all the people all of the time. And I also remind myself that negative comments say more about the reviewer and perhaps what’s going on in their life at that time than they do about me.

With so many gorgeous reviews/ratings and so much excitement about the fourth book in the series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – my biggest concern right now is not a handful of negative comments. It’s whether book 4 can measure up to the high bar set by the previous books, particularly Family Secrets. I’m meant to be writing it at the moment and I’ll admit to procrastinating massively on getting going because of THE FEAR! What if it isn’t good enough? What if there’s this huge build-up to the cliffhanger reveal and all the excitement about the release (and a long wait) and readers are disappointed?

I have this 2-star review for Family Secrets: I couldn’t be bothered to finish this. The first two books in this series were fine, but the author is now trying to stretch the theme too far – rather boring. Ouch! 96% of readers disagree so I’m not unduly concerned about these comments but what I fear is these sorts of comments for book 4 onwards. I completely disagree with them. I am not stretching a theme too far. There is a setting and there are stories to tell and I have lots of great stories in mind … but what if the unexpected twists and turns of Family Secrets was the peak and it’s downhill from there? Argh!

One of my favourite films is A Cinderella Story. From 2004 and starring Hilary Duff, it’s a modern-day reimagining of the Cinderella story as you can probably guess from the title and it’s fabulous. The main character is called Sam and her dad used to run a sports-themed diner. When he died, Sam’s ‘wicked stepmother’ took it over and refurbished. She redecorated it pink and made the staff wear roller boots. Near the climax in the film, a door slams and something falls off the wall revealing the baseball-themed quote Sam’s dad had up there: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. I love that!

This quote is in my mind as I approach writing book 4 and I’m pushing aside that 2-star review. It’s partly the reason why I have decided to do a really intensive blitz of the book next week as I’ve been spending too much time thinking and worrying and not getting the words down on the paper. I do have a great story to tell. It’s different from book 3’s story but all the stories are different otherwise I would accept the ‘rather boring’ accusation. I also have an amazing editor who will help knock it into shape so we’re bringing out a great book that doesn’t disappoint the hedgehog fans.

Tell you what, if writing a book was as simple as having an idea and getting it down on the page, my job would be so easy. It’s the thinking and worrying that causes the problems. But I absolutely love what I do and, although I could do without THE FEAR, I would choose it with the fear rather than not do it at all. Which brings us to another quote: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

I have the rest of the week to get organised and do the research I need to do to enable me to get my head down for next Monday and write. No way am I expecting to write a full book in a week but I’m certainly going to give it a good go!

Hope you have a fabulous week and thank you for all the amazing love and support for this series. I really appreciate all the lovely reviews, the comments on social media, the recommendations, and the direct messages I’ve had from so many lovely readers. They’re such a boost.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx