The one where the Write Romantics went to York

I’m part of a writing collective called the Write Romantics. Started by myself and fellow Boldwood author, Jo Bartlett in late 2012 with a plan to blog together, we realised that we had very little to blog about – both approaching but not quite being at the submissions point – so we opened it up in spring 2013 and asked if anyone else wanted to join us. Two became ten. We’re based all over the country from as far south as Brighton and as far north as Cumbria so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get together. I’ve met everyone – most on several occasions – but we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. Smaller numbers of us have done our best to meet up at RNA events over the years or catch up when we’ve been on holiday or working near one or more of the others.

Last November, six of us went to Stratford Upon Avon and had such a lovely time that we decided to arrange another get together for this November in York and had a whopping seven takers – the biggest number we’d have ever had in one place. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against us and numbers dropped and only three of us were able to make it – Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury and me. We missed the others loads but still had a lovely few days away together.

My parents take their caravan to a site just outside York each year to visit the Christmas markets and celebrate my mum’s birthday and it struck me we’d be there at the same time. My mum’s a voracious reader and has read most of the books the Write Romantics have written and has loved them all so she was very excited at the idea of meeting some of the group. As we couldn’t check in to our hotel until 3pm but had all planned to arrive earlier, we met her for lunch while my dad did a walk round the city walls.

After checking in, we had a little bit of writing downtime then met for tea. I didn’t think to take a photo but I had the most delicious meal. My ‘festive burger’ had turkey slices, stuffing, bacon, a sausage and cranberry sauce with a pig in blanket on the top, served with roast potatoes and gravy. Mmmm.

The forecast for Wednesday – our full day – was looking pretty dire for the morning so we decided there was no point traipsing into the city centre, getting wet and miserable, when it was meant to be clear in the afternoon. We loitered over breakfast and had been told we were fine to do so but felt a bit guilty when they started vacuuming round us so we returned to our rooms for a bit more writing time.

As forecast, the rain lifted at noon and we walked into the city, pausing on one of the bridges to take some photos of a very swollen River Ouse, although it wasn’t as high as it had been over the weekend.

None of us were planning on doing much in the way of Christmas shopping. It was more of a chance to wander round the market stalls, soak in the atmosphere and catch up. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of the selfie as I always find my eyes straying to the button I need to press so please excuse my dodgy gazing!

Here, we have the Christmas Markets, The Shambles, a nutcracker outside the Christmas shop on The Shambles, and York Minster. I had to pop into The Works to get a shelfie which included another couple of Write Romantics – Jo Bartlett and Helen Rolfe – in our trip, albeit in book format.

Speaking of books, I had an amazing surprise in Waterstones. I’d already been to York on Saturday to take my mum out for a birthday meal and my daughter and I had dived into a few shops. I love to go into branches of Waterstones and look at the R shelf, imagining seeing my books there so imagine my surprise when York Waterstones had a copy of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow in stock! They don’t stock my books so I’m assuming it was ordered in for a customer who failed to collect. Very exciting to see it there, even if that was the reason!

This is actually me on Saturday. I took Sharon over to the shelf yesterday and pretended it was a surprise to spot it there but I’m a rubbish liar and admitted pretty much straight away that I’d seen it at the weekend. She took a photo of me holding it which I was going to include here but then I realised it was on Sharon’s phone so I’ll get that off her and post it on social media instead.

Back to the Write Romantics trip, there were several nutcrackers around the city centre but I hadn’t noticed at first that they all had names on them. It seems there’s a nutcracker trail which would be a really lovely thing to do but we were nearly done with our wandering at this point. We’d paused on a bench next to a white one and I spotted that his name was Stephen so I had to take a picture. In my book New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Sarah goes searching for the man of her dreams called Steven and I’d just found him for her in nutcracker format!

Sharon had a gift voucher for tea for two at Patisserie Valerie so we went in there for a late lunch. I’ve never been in before but have always thought the cakes looked delicious. The afternoon tea looked impressive and we even managed to eat the scones without our usual debate as to how to pronounce the word so we must all have been tired! However, we were extremely unimpressed that there were no toilets in working order. There was a sign on the door saying no toilets and we assumed that was a deterrent for the general public but it was genuinely the case that the toilets were out of order. I’m pretty sure that’s actually illegal and not great when a food stop usually includes a toilet stop.

Sharon and Jackie headed back to the hotel and I stayed in the city centre for a little longer so I could grab a couple of Christmas gifts and catch the lights. My photos really don’t do justice to how pretty York looked as dusk turned to dark but hopefully they give you some flavour of it.

Today, we had breakfast, some writing time, then met for lunch before all heading home. I’ve got a very busy ten days ahead of me to finish writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Cafe. I’ve only written a third of it so far so that’s definitely going to be a challenge but I’ll get there.

We missed our other Write Romantics buddies but did have a lovely few days of writerly and family chat and hope it’s not too long before we can see the others. Thank you, Sharon and Jackie, for the fabulous company.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the holiday that wasn’t quite as we’d hoped

I love going on holiday. I don’t mind whether it’s in the UK or abroad as I simply love that time to switch my brain off and hopefully catch up on some sleep. Yesterday evening, we returned from a week in Lanzarote. We’d been so looking forward to it as it was our first trip overseas post-pandemic. Like many people, we’d cancelled a holiday when that first lockdown hit (Portugal in May 2020) and the idea of sitting on a plane or round a pool wearing face masks didn’t appeal so we’d waited until things settled before booking another holiday abroad.

We’ve visited the Canary Islands before – Gran Canaria twice, Tenerife and Fuerteventura – so we decided to complete the set of the four main islands with a trip to Lanzarote.

We were that excited about the prospect of going abroad again that we didn’t do as much research as usual. We also hadn’t really thought about our changing needs as a family. Our daughter will be 16 at Christmas and is in her final year at senior school. She was approaching 11 on our last Canaries visit (Gran Canaria) and in her final year at primary school. Very different situation.

So we bodged. We choose a much larger hotel than we’ve chosen before in a resort which looked pretty central and therefore easy access on a small island to anything else we wanted to get to. We knew it would be different but we’d overlooked quite how different it would be. And how it wasn’t going to be right for us!

When we looked at the hotel on the website, the pirate ship and slides in the middle of the pool should have been a big clue. The many kids’ clubs for different ages up to 18 should have been another. The giant daisy mascot should have rung bells. But nothing clicked until we took a wander round the hotel grounds (an early flight meant our room wasn’t ready on arrival) and were hit by a wall of sound. Oops! This was a large family hotel and the majority of the children were primary school age and younger. There were children absolutely everywhere, squealing, shouting, laughing, crying. The quiet read by the pool I’d been looking forward to suddenly became a distant dream. (Note, the photos were taken before the pool opened in most cases so don’t be deceived by how few people there are!)

Before anyone yells ‘Bah, humbug!’ at me or whatever would be the appropriate equivalent for a ‘summer’ holiday, I’ll just clarify that there’s nothing wrong with this type of holiday and I absolutely agree that young children should be squealing, laughing and having fun in the pool, enjoying their holiday. It’s just that it’s not for us at this point in our life and not for our daughter either.

The resort itself – Costa Teguise – was very pleasant. It was clean and had a lovely promenade along the sea into the town – something we’ve always loved about the other Canarian resorts we’ve visited. However, this one didn’t have as many bars and restaurants alongside it as we’re used to so it was a little different and we ended up doing that walk into the town for lunch or dinner a lot.

There were some trips that had appealed but, with the pound not performing well, these were very expensive. The three places we’d have liked to go would really only have been 1-2 hour visits and we couldn’t justify £45 each per trip on that basis. We did go to Rancho Texas Park near Puerto Del Carmen where there was a mix of animals from a Siberian White Tiger to dolphins to buffalo to guinea pigs. Yes, that’s a very eclectic mix! The park was nicely arranged and if you attended all the shows and spent time in the water park part, you could easily spend a full day there but we didn’t do the water park or attend all the shows so we only needed a few hours.

I loved seeing the guinea pigs in their cute wigwams and a baby buffalo in his food trough but I do struggle with seeing some animals in captivity and like to know their story. At the Sealife Centre in Scarborough, there are some resident seals but they all have stories which mean they would struggle in the wild e.g. one is blind, another has a brain injury etc. I wanted to hear those sorts of stories about the dolphins here but they didn’t share any and the show was very much the traditional jumping through hoops and jumping for balls type. Looking on the website since then, they were all born in captivity. Does this mean they can’t be released into the wild? I don’t know. I’m no expert on this. All I can say is it makes me a bit twitchy. Same with the tiger. He was amazing to see but is it cruel to have him there? Again, I don’t know. One of those things that makes me go hmmm.

As we hadn’t been there all day, we caught a taxi to Puerto Del Carmen’s harbour thinking we could catch a boat trip to see dolphins in the wild but there weren’t any running which was disappointing. I’m sure Puerto Del Carmen is lovely if you’re in the ‘right’ part but the walk from the harbour to the town wasn’t the nicest.

The daughter and I have a favourite shop called Ale-Hop aka ‘The Cow Shop’ as there’s always a cow outside it (not a real one, of course!) It sells a mix of things from stationery to hair accessories to toys to gadgets. There was an Ale-Hop in Puerto Del Carmen so we visited that, spent some Euros, and decided we were done with Puerto Del Carmen and headed back to the hotel.

I purchased the most gorgeous squashy cat who I’ve christened ‘Pusstachio’ because he’s pistachio green. I was quite proud of that name. I neeeeeeded him! My phone is actually full and I can’t take any more pictures (and don’t have the energy to go through deleting old ones) but if you’d like to see him, this is Ale-Hop’s Spanish website and a link direct to my green cat here.

I managed to shut out the noise and did read two books on a couple of pool days and loved them both: The Will of the Witch from Sharon Booth, book four in her fabulous The Witches of Castle Clair series and Happy Endings at Mermaids Point by Sarah Bennett which is the final of five books in this gorgeous series and was simply the perfect (happy) ending. It’s rare I get time to read so this was a luxury for me. I also caught up on a lot of sleep and I switched off completely from work which was much needed as I’ve had quite a tough year with my writing – several books in a row needing quite major editing which had taken it out of me. So I did achieve some of my holiday goals which is good.

Usually when we get to the end of a week away, we wish we were staying longer and had ten days booked, but this is the first time a week seemed too long. Again, I emphasise that there was nothing wrong with our resort or the island and I’m sure many readers of this will love the places. They just weren’t quite for us and we’ve learned a valuable lesson about what we really want from our holidays now. We don’t love the heat. We don’t enjoy lounging by a pool and, if we are, we prefer a quiet pool where you can swim properly. We love things to do and beautiful scenery. This is why our spiritual home is Keswick in the Lake District, even in the rain. You don’t get much more stunning than Derwent Water and the mountains surrounding it.

There were some stunning flowers in the gardens around the hotel and they’d made a brilliant effort with Halloween decorations in the lobby. There was a fabulous set of bookshelves and I took a couple of my books to gift to the collection. I would absolutely love it if someone spotted one of them and shared a pic on social media.

On our final evening – Thursday – we had a late lunch/early tea so that we could pack our cases. The daughter wanted one last ice-cream from a place called Crème which we’d visited a few times (highly recommended) so she and the hubby went for a final walk into town while I packed the cases. My phone rang. Husband. ‘We’ve just seen a hedgehog!’ How typical that the one and only time I stayed in the apartment, they spotted a hedgehog. How gutted was I? The daughter dug her phone out but didn’t manage to get a clear picture as it was dark and she didn’t want to use flash and startle it. Apparently the Algerian or North African Hedgehog can be found on the Canary Islands. It was introduced to all the Canary Islands and has a much lighter face than our European Hedgehog.

We had a delay coming home – late boarding and then about 3/4 an hour sitting on the plane having missed our departure slot as there was quite a lot of faffing about boarding (won’t bore you with that story) – but there was a strong tail wind so the flight was an hour shorter and we landed only about 20 minutes later than planned. We needed to get the shuttle bus to the car park and had just missed one. Despite them supposedly being on a 7-10 minute loop, we must have waited heading for half an hour and had even checked out Google Maps to see if walking was an option.

Finally a bus appeared and everyone piled on. Except nobody seemed to know how these buses work. There is luggage space to put large cases in with a lip to stop them rolling out and two shelves for the smaller cases/hand baggage. So many of those who’d boarded first had small cabin cases but they’d filled the large case space with them meaning there was no space for us or anyone behind us to put their large cases. The daughter managed to get a seat with hers beside her and hubby and I squashed into the mid-bus exit with ours. Then a family got on with 2 children and a gazillion cases between them and they hadn’t a clue what to do. The driver instructed people to move down the bus which is fine … but what do you do with your luggage? A woman getting on shouted some abuse at them, ordering them to move and they tried to but there was still nowhere to put their luggage. They ended up standing by us, completely blocking the exit.

The driver gave up getting everyone on and had to leave a handful of people to wait for the next bus. Perhaps if he’d instructed people as they got on to put their small luggage on the shelves, everyone could have squeezed on, but he gave no guidance and perhaps didn’t see that as his job. Mind you, you would think logic would say put small, lighter luggage on shelves, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, there’s a reason I’m giving you all this background because there was an incident. We pulled up at the first stop and not many people needed to get off – maybe 3-4? The man and woman from the family finally realised they needed to get off to let people out so they did that with their big suitcases but another woman getting off needed to retrieve her smaller suitcase from where it had been pinned in behind a load of other cases. This wasn’t easy with people and cases everywhere. In the meantime, the man and woman from the family had got back on the bus so I explained to them that they would need to get off again until everyone was off so they did that and hubby got off too to give even more space.

And that’s when the incident happened. Some woman sat near the back suddenly started on me. It came out of nowhere but, my goodness, she had opinions and I was going to be the butt of them. Apparently I was ignorant and blocking the exit and should have had the sense to get off. I wasn’t blocking the exit at all! I was squashed at the far side, away from where people were trying to get off. The family who’d got off after us were the ones blocking it and it was already resolved by me explaining to them that they needed to get off temporarily and by hubby getting off too. But this woman was on one and apparently it was all my fault. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I asked her why she was having a go at me when I wasn’t in the way but she just kept going on and on. I said could she leave it because everyone had had a lovely holiday and just wanted to get home and things were sorted now and there was no need for the abuse but, no, I was the one to blame for absolutely everything and she continued in her rant at me, complete with scary looks.

Crazy thing is she couldn’t have seen me when all the kerfuffle started as I’m too short for her to have seen me past everyone else so there was no way she could have pinpointed me as being the one in the way (when I wasn’t). She wouldn’t leave it. I can’t bear confrontation and was shaking at this point but I wasn’t going to just stand there while she continued with her verbal abuse so I said very strongly, ‘Hey! Stop it!’ It was all I could manage as I was on the verge of tears. Of course, she didn’t stop. This got a whole raft of further abuse about me telling her to stop it.

I had sympathetic looks from those round me and a couple caught my eye and I could tell they were stunned at what had kicked off and why it was directed at me. I know why. This woman was clearly tired and wanted to get home. I get that. I was tired and wanted to get home too. Things weren’t happening quickly enough for her. I get that too. The whole luggage storage thing was a disaster, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault and it certainly wasn’t mine. There were 6 people stood in the exit and she’d have taken one look at them wondering who she could vent at. She couldn’t have a go at the children but she couldn’t have a go at the parents either without potentially being accused of racist behaviour as they were people of colour. The hubby is over 6 foot so no way was she going to have a go at him. Which left the short fat woman.

She got off at the same stop as us. I shot across the zebra crossing to the car park, desperate to get away with her, praying she was in a different section to us. I feared her having a go at me again. I don’t know what she’d hoped to achieve by the abuse. If it was to scare me, it worked. I was terrified. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the way home, wishing I’d been able to say something more effective or clever to shut her down.

I didn’t sleep last night.

It’s after 6pm today and I’ve been thinking about it all day today.

Why are there people like this? Why would someone verbally attack a stranger in this way? Why do bullies exist? And why did nobody defend me? My only comfort was that, as we got off, a man said to hubby that he has no idea why the woman had a go at me when I was doing nothing wrong. At least there was some support for me, even if nobody voiced it.

We didn’t have the best holiday but this wiped out all the positive memories and made it one of my worst experiences ever. I’ve already told hubby that we’re going to have to do the private parking thing at the airport so we don’t have to do that shuttle bus again. No way could I risk experiencing that.

Everything happens for a reason and all experiences are useful to an author. Perhaps I’ll use that incident in a future novel. I certainly know how horrendous it feels to be on the receiving end of unprovoked and continuous verbal abuse.

Anyway, to end on a bright note, I hope you enjoyed the photos. As you can see, we ate a lot of ice-cream and drank a lot of cocktails, milkshakes and smoothies!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where the past two months have been crazy busy

Do you ever have months where there’s so much going on, you hardly get to pause for breath? I’ve just had two of them and there’s more still to come this month. But it’s (mainly) been wonderful.

I’ve met up with lots of friends, new and old…

Before I became a full-time author, my most recent role was as an HR Tutor – something I did for about five years. I marked assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification, CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), and ran online workshops. However, when I first started in the role, the workshops were run in person on weekends and I met some wonderful students and also some amazing tutors.

One of my former (and favourite – but don’t tell the others!) students, Charlie, was holidaying in Whitby with his husband, Paul, and asked if I’d like to meet them in Robin Hood’s Bay. We worked out it had probably been about seven years since the workshop. It was so good to catch up with Charlie and to meet Paul. I never thought to take a photo but here’s a pic of Robin Hood’s Bay from a previous visit.

From my tutoring role, I also met up with my former colleague, Carol, for a day out in York. York’s my favourite city and so lovely for a wander, especially outside the school holidays on a weekday when it’s a bit quieter. We met at York Station where I spotted this gorgeous postbox topper and completely fell in love with the viking on the top – so perfect for York. Whoever made this is so talented.

I also had a catch-up with a blast from the past. An old friend from school dropped me a message recently on my author page and, as I write under a pen name, it was a bit of a mystery at first as to how she’d found me. It turned out that she’d seen me on the re-run of my appearance on ITV’s The Chase and had recognised me from school. She couldn’t find me on Facebook under my maiden name but couldn’t remember my author name. Then, spookily, she was running a workshop and a delegate mentioned that she was reading one of my books! So she found me and it was so good to meet up, although the memory was certainly tested as it’s 34 years since we left school. We’ll hopefully catch up again before Christmas.

I had several writing-related get-togethers too. My first was with Sharon Booth and Eliza J Scott which was several hours of wonderful chat. There’s a cafe and farm shop on the outskirts of Scarborough which is a great central location as Sharon and Eliza live in different directions and I’m in the middle.

I indulged in the most amazing hot chocolate before lunch and we had a quick look at a few of the animals before we left – and I mean quick because it started raining!

A second writerly meet-up was with author Lizzie Lamb who was also holidaying in Whitby. Sharon and I have both met Lizzie on several occasions at RNA events (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but, with so much happening and so many people to talk to, conversation has always been brief so it was fabulous to have a full afternoon together.

We exchanged signed books, which was lovely. Thank you, Lizzie, for my copy of Scotch on the Rocks and the accompanying bar of chocolate – nom nom!

My next writing-related meet-up was with four of the five-strong admin team on the amazing Facebook group, The Friendly Book Community. If you’re interested in sharing the love for books, this is such a happy, friendly place to be. I was thrilled to be invited to join the group right at the start and watch them grow to a whopping 2.7k members so far.

They’d come to Scarborough for a weekend and I met them for lunch. It was amazing to meet (from L-R in the pic) Sarah, Marie, Louise and Hazel in person (I’m in the middle), having got to know them virtually over the past 18 months or so, and they were just as warm and welcoming in real life. I stayed with them all afternoon and wish I could have stayed longer, but I had a deadline to get home to (more on that later). Love to Adrienne who was unable to join them for the weekend.

Our only disappointment is that we nipped to The Works where they hoped to get a photo of me next to my books on the shelves but the shelves were pretty empty at that point and all my books had sold through.

I have a final writerly catch-up today which I’m really looking forward to. Sharon and I are having lunch with authors Joy Wood and Sylvia Broady. Sylvia is in the same RNA Chapter as us so we have seen her recently but the last time I saw Joy was last September at the RNA’s York Tea. I’m excited to hear all their news.

There’ve been writing events…

I had three writing events lined up for September but only one of them actually went ahead. The first would have been the RNA’s annual York Tea but it was being held a little earlier in September than usual and, unfortunately, the date clashed with a few other events so there weren’t enough tickets sold and that got cancelled. It’s my favourite RNA event so hopefully all will be back to normal next year.

The next cancelled event was to be my first ever festival appearance. I was so excited about appearing as a speaker on the Richmond Walking & Book Festival but my slot was scheduled for 11am on 19th September – the same time and day of the Queen’s funeral – so it couldn’t go ahead. Hopefully I’ll appear next year instead. It was the only day that was cancelled so such a shame that I was booked for that day. What a sad time that was, losing our Queen, and it feeling so sudden too.

What did go ahead in September was a library talk. Stockton Libraries had kindly invited me to speak one evening so I went along to Norton Library and was thrilled to have an audience of roughly twenty there. They’d created an amazing display of my books and a local library user had made the most stunning (and delicious) cupcakes. Mmmm.

I completely fell in love with the kissing hedgehogs in the display and was told they were from Next. I couldn’t find them online but we have a Next Home on a small retail park near us so I nipped there the following day and was thrilled to find one on display so I bagged it!

A huge thank you to Ruth for arranging the evening and the amazing team at the library for being such welcoming hosts. Thank you to all those who attended including a few members of my Facebook group Redland’s Readers who it was lovely to meet in person. I am, however, mortified, as a member of my group came along and I didn’t register who she was. For some reason, I had it into my head that she was coming to my Richmond talk and couldn’t make it to the library. When she said her name, I misheard it too and made no connection at first. Even though we’ve messaged and it’s all sorted, I still feel really bad as I know she was disappointed that I didn’t click who she was. All I can plead is brain drain. There’s so much going on in my head at an event like this and my brain can’t always hold everything.

My friend and amazingly gifted artist Lucy Pittaway came along to support – an extra surprise for some audience members who love her work – and we went for a quick drink afterwards with her and her colleague, Vicki, which rounded off a perfect evening.

I’m excited to announce that, although I hope to speak at the Richmond Walking & Book Festival next year, I will definitely be appearing at a festival. Stockton Libraries collaborate with the Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland districts to put on an event called Crossing the Tees (genius name – the River Tees running through the area alongside the literary meaning of the phrase). A date for your diary is Sunday 10th June 2023 at 2.00-3.30pm at Ormesby Library, on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. I’ll be on a panel of authors talking about the romance genre. Jane Lovering, a fellow-Boldwood Books author, will be joining me and I’m in the process of securing another author too.

If anyone is an aspiring writer, I’m also going to be running a beginner’s writing workshop on the afternoon of Saturday 9th June. The details of the workshop and the venue will be confirmed later but I’m really looking forward to that.

It was my wedding anniversary in late September (17 years) and we had a family trip up to Whitby and a delicious meal on the way home. I was excited to see a whopping FOUR of my books in Great Reads Whitby (a discount bookstore) including one in the window.

It was a beautiful day, but very windy as you can see from the photos. That sea was definitely wild… and so was my hair!

There was a publication day…

Already looking pretty busy? There’s more! Around all this, I had publication day of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow and a separate audio publication day on this occasion as we couldn’t secure the main narrator for the original publication date. Publication day is always busy with announcements, responding to congratulations messages, having the blog tour start, and eagerly watching the chart.

The hedgehogs have been dipping in and out of the Top 100 since publication day and, at the time of writing, they’re currently at #90 which is exciting (they have been higher – woo hoo!). This week, a day shy of 6 weeks since release, they had their 1,000th review/rating on Amazon and I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts.

And some special offers on my Hedgehog Hollow series…

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1) and Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow (book 6) both went into Prime Reading so are free to Prime Reading subscribers. Finding Love is currently 99p on Kindle.

Although not in Prime reading, book 5 – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – is also currently on a 99p offer so do grab that if you haven’t already done so.

I mentioned writing deadlines a couple of times. These two months have also been deadline-filled. Book 18 is out on 24th January 2023 and is called Healing Hearts at Bumblebee Barn. It’s available to pre-order for Kindle right now (click the title to get to it) although the cover and blurb won’t appear until early November. It will be available to pre-order on other eBook platforms and on Audible nearer the time. It will also be out in all the print formats from publication day too.

I had a deadline to get the first draft in to my editor which I had to extend as I contracted conjunctivitis and had to spend a few days away from the screen. I’m really squeamish with my eyes. You know that episode of Friends where Rachel needs eye drops and the others have to quite literally pin her to the sofa? That was me! I swear the hubby took far too much delight in putting those drops in my eyes!

I made it to the revised deadline but knew my manuscript was a bit of a mess and that I wanted to change one part of the plot and the ending. My editor, Nia, is amazing and she typically agrees with what I’ve already identified is wrong with the story (but didn’t have time to fix) and comes up with some invaluable suggestions of her own. I then had deadlines for getting the 1st round of edits back and the 2nd, which were returned at the weekend. In between those rounds of edits, I came down with Covid for the second time!

Fortunately it was reasonably mild – bad cold, tired – and I’m so thankful it hit me between edits instead of during them as working was too exhausting. I watched lots of films but had hoped to do lots of catching-up on my admin so that all had to be put on hold.

I’ve seen the gorgeous cover and have had the blurb finalised too and can’t wait to share them with readers.

And as if all that wasn’t busy enough, I’ve had a flu jab, hair appointment, physio sessions (I have back/neck/shoulder problems – typical for an author spending too much time hunched over their keyboard!), a tour round the local sixth form ready for my daughter applying there for next September, and an open evening at her school about GCSE revision tips. Phew! Exhausted thinking about it all!

So today I’m off to meet Sharon, Sylvia and Joy as mentioned and then I’m off on my holidays over half-term – a much earned (and needed) rest after a couple of busy months.

Hope September and October have treated you well and hope you’ve enjoyed my photos. Do grab yourself those Hedgehog Hollows on offer if you haven’t already done so. And spread the word!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we explored Northumberland Part 2

Hello, me again with the second part of our Northumberland holiday. Hadn’t realised I had quite so many photos to share so thought I’d better break down the holiday review into two posts.

If you’d like to read the first part, you can find it here.

I’ll pick up on Tuesday at the end of the day when we visited Amble. We’d just watched an RNLI rescue attempt on a grounded yacht and had moved onto the pier. It was a beautiful evening and such a lovely walk.

There are a couple of piers joined together around an area of beach which looks so perfect for families as it’s really shallow. A woman and child were practicing paddle boarding and falling off was simply a calf-deep step into the sea – absolutely ideal.

There was a red and white striped lighthouse at the end of one of the piers – my favourite sort of lighthouse – but it was through a locked gate so I could only get so close to it. I don’t know what it is about lighthouses but they make me so happy. It’s on my bucket list to have a holiday in one at some point.

There are several islands off the Northumberland coast. This particular one here (also with a lighthouse on it) is Coquet Island, a mile from the coast of Amble. It’s a haven for puffins who breed there in the spring.

On the beach I mentioned earlier – the very family-friendly one – there’s a lovely set of beach huts all beautifully painted in different colours. Beach huts are also a love of mine even though I’ve never owned or hired one. They’re just so pretty to look at.

The following day – Wednesday – we were back to the gloomy weather. It wasn’t cold – it was just dull. We’d decided this was the best day for a trip to Lindisfarne aka Holy Island based round the tide times and how long we wanted to be there. For those who aren’t familiar with Holy Island, it’s off the Northumberland coast, a little south of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, and is approached on a causeway which gets flooded by the rising tide, cutting the island off twice daily. Careful planning is therefore needed around when to cross based on when is safe and how long you want to spend on the island.

We didn’t want to spend a full day there this time as we still had a lot of other activities we wanted to squeeze in. We’ve also been several times before and our main aim was to explore Lindisfarne Castle which we haven’t been to on previous visits. The castle is run by the National Trust but dogs can’t go in so hubby stayed near the entrance and my daughter and I had a quick explore. There are great views from the castle but the photos don’t really do justice to them with the weather being so dull.

Photo credit for the boat pic on the left (above) goes to the hubby. I took one but mine wasn’t nearly as good!

Our plan on leaving Holy Island was to visit Bamburgh Castle but hubby had read about a lighthouse and a stag rock just north of the castle which we went to visit first. This took us on a walk along the beach and back along the cliff path. I’m so glad we did this walk as it was really interesting with lots of rocks and rock pools on the beach and, of course, a lighthouse.

There were some old WWII sea defence blocks on the beach which had been turned into dice and Rubik’s Cubes which looked great and made the concrete blocks so much more interesting.

Bamburgh Castle

Is it just me, or do you think that lighthouse has faces on it? I see a face at the front and on the left side of it!

As we got closer to Bamburgh Castle, we could see it was very busy and decided not to visit on this occasion as we went on our last visit. If you’ve not been before, I do highly recommend it as it’s a great place to explore and the beaches on either side are beautiful.

We were really shattered from so many days out and out – many of them very breezy – so we decided to head back to the holiday apartment via a quick stop-off in Alnwick for a gelato. Yum yum!

The plan for Thursday went a little wrong. We’d intended to visit Alnwick Castle on the morning then meet with my parents for lunch in Alnwick. I nipped onto the website while we had lunch on the Wednesday to check opening times and prices and there was a big notice saying you needed to book and walk-ups probably couldn’t be accommodated. Eek! I tried to book but there were no tickets left. Double eek! If there were no bookable tickets, the likelihood of a walk-up place felt very remote and we weren’t willing to take that risk so that scuppered things somewhat.

Hubby needed to work that morning so I decided that we’d have to skip the castle but placated the daughter by suggesting we did the crazy golf instead. We’d spotted this as part of The Alnwick Garden attraction but it’s entered separately so you don’t have to be going to the garden to get in. It had been very people-y when we visited the garden with big queues but I wondered if we might be able to whizz through it more quickly if we booked the first slot on Thursday morning so that’s what we did.

We were the first on The Forgotten Garden Adventure Golf and actually made it to hole six before anyone joined us. It was so nice not having anyone right behind us but also not having to wait for a large family to finish as I hate feeling like I’m putting pressure on others by queueing.

It’s a brilliant crazy golf course and reasonably priced (£4.80 for adults and £3.80 for children at the point of writing this). Watch out for the spider, though, as it spits venom! I wondered why the path near it was so wet!

As we whizzed through the golf and had already looked round Alnwick, we weren’t sure what to do for the rest of the morning until we met my parents so I suggested another trip to Barter Books where we could get a hot chocolate.

When we’d visited earlier in the week, two of my books had been on the fiction shelf but I was surprised and delighted to see they’d been joined by Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow so, of course, I had to have my photo taken with all three of them.

We had a lovely hot chocolate and shared a piece of shortbread and a Malteser tray bake in one of the old station lounges. If you’ve never visited Barter Books, I really do recommend it. Packed with pre-loved books and a stack of 1st editions/collector’s items, it does great food and is so beautifully set out with a miniature railway running round one section.

As we left, I glanced across at the fiction section where my three books had been earlier and look what I spotted…

That’s right! The hedgehogs had gone! At some point during the hour (probably not even that long) that we were in Barter Books, somebody had been in and had bought one of my books! It blew my mind a bit to think that somebody had done that with absolutely no idea that the author was in the building. They might have even walked past me holding it! If that was you, thank you. We nearly met!

We met up with my parents for lunch after that and then hubby and the dog picked us up and we returned to Amble so we could visit the beach hut gift shops which had been closed by the time we got there earlier in the week. I treated myself to a silver necklace with a heart over a deep blue piece of seaglass, thinking of Hollie from The Starfish Café series who collects seaglass for her crafting.

We then travelled up the coast to Low Newton by the Sea. This was another place we hadn’t been before. It’s a little north of Embleton from where we’d walked to Dunstanburgh Castle on the Monday and we could have extended the walk to set off from there but hadn’t wanted to leave Mum and my daughter alone for the longer time that would have taken us.

I’m not sure about Low Newton. It’s a village mainly owned by the National Trust and appeared to have a lot of holiday homes in it. The village part was pretty and there’s no doubting the beach was lovely but we took a walk over the sand dunes and there were lots of wooden buildings which seemed too big to be beach huts but quite remote to be holiday cottages (in that you can’t access them by cars). Some looked cared for but others were quite rundown and I personally found it a little creepy. I have no idea why it affected me this way and I’m sure most would completely disagree but you know how sometimes a place simply doesn’t do it for you and you can’t pinpoint why? This was my place. Which was a shame as it really brought my mood plummeting which doesn’t happen often.

Thankfully our final stop of the day was much nicer for me personally – the fishing village of Craster further south. The sun was out and the harbour was calm. We had a drink in the pub overlooking the harbour and, even though I was a bit gutted they’d run out of crisps, it was a lovely end to the day.

In the bottom three photos, you can just see Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance. On our last visit to the area in February 2018, we walked to the castle from Craster. It’s a gorgeous walk across the cliff tops but we did it from the other side this time.

All too soon, our holiday was over. We packed up the car and set off home on Friday morning. Our plan was to visit National Trust run Cragside. I was really looking forward to this because it meant we still had one more day of our holiday and would be visiting somewhere else we’d not been before.

First thing I said to hubby on setting off was, ‘You do know the way to Cragside?’ He assured me he did. I had no idea where it was in proximity to Alnwick so I trusted him and didn’t look at the map. Big mistake. We seemed to be travelling a long way down the A1 before he admitted he thought we may have gone too far. We had! In fact, we shouldn’t even have gone on the A1 at all. It was actually south west from Alnwick along a back road. Google Maps told us it would take us 40 minutes to turn round and drive back. We weren’t going to do that and, with no particular inspiration as to where to go via on the way home, we headed straight back. Not the ideal end to the hols but these things happen …. usually to us!

It was a good week but not as amazing as our Easter break in the Lakes. We struggled to find pubs to eat in where dogs were welcome or where you didn’t have to have booked well in advance. It’s not easy to book a pub before you go to an area and don’t know the pubs! We couldn’t get in Alnwick Castle because there were no tickets, and we did have a couple of driving round a car park aimlessly moments as it was way busier than we’re used to. Hubby also had more work to do than he’d anticipated which was a shame, although it did mean that the daughter and I could go to places where dogs aren’t welcome. All these things cast a few shadows over an otherwise bright week. I loved that we discovered some new-to-us places like the riverside walk in Berwick, Alnmouth, the beach and piers area at Amble and the northern side of Bamburgh Beach with the lighthouse and Stag Rock. We’ll definitely return and visit all of those on our next trip. And, of course, a personal special moment for me was being in a bookshop when someone bought one of my books, even if I didn’t see it happen.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my second set of photos. Enjoy what’s left of your Monday.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we explored Northumberland Part 1

To all my UK-based followers, happy bank holiday weekend! Can you believe, that’s it with the bank holidays until Christmas Day? Eek! However you’re spending this one, hope you have a lovely time. I’m in my office all weekend catching up on emails and admin as well as starting my edits on book eighteen which came through on Saturday night. But, before you feel sorry for me working all weekend, I have just had a week’s holiday so I’m quite happy to be back in the office.

On Friday we returned from a week in Northumberland which, for anyone not familiar with the UK, is the most north-eastern area of England, bordering with Scotland. It’s an area full of spacious beaches and steeped with history so if you like the coast and you like castles, it’s a fabulous place to explore.

We’ve visited on several previous occasions and had originally booked this holiday for February half-term but we couldn’t go as hubby and I both came down with Covid. We’d been talking about having a week somewhere in August but hadn’t yet booked anything so we managed to shift our booking rather than cancel it completely.

One of the things we’ve loved about previous visits out of season has been how deserted the beaches can be, how quiet some of the attractions are, how we’ve never had problems parking or finding somewhere to eat. We were therefore a little apprehensive as to how busy it might be in the summer and it did end up impacting on some of our plans.

We were staying in Alnwick which is about 125 miles from us and, in theory, a 2 hour 40 minute drive. Hmm. Add a couple of hours to that for being stuck behind tractors and campervans on the minor roads and held up by roadworks on the main ones! We therefore stopped off for lunch in Durham en route although we couldn’t believe how hard it was to find somewhere that made takeaway sandwiches. Must have been looking in the wrong places. It was only a fleeting visit so no photo opps but I spotted this on the side of the library which I loved.

It was shortly before tea when we arrived in Alnwick. We were staying in a beautiful conversion called ‘The Malthouse’ which had formerly been where malt was stored ready to be used by the local brewery. It was beautifully decorated and perfectly located right at the top of town so not far to walk to anywhere.

I loved how so much of the decor was relevant to my books. Check out this little selection along with the most fabulous goody basket:

On the Saturday, we ventured up to Berwick-Upon-Tweed – the most northern visit we had planned. We’ve visited before but hadn’t gone out of the town centre. This time we took a walk along the coast, through the town, down by the river and through a park, discovering new parts of the town. The weather was hit and miss with bright blue skies and sunshine one minute and torrential rain the next.

In the town, I visited The Works and found a copy of Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow on the shelf in the sale so had to get a photo. The manager asked me if I was looking for anything in particular and I said I was visiting, but then was brave and said I was an author and always checked out The Works to see if they had stock in from me or my author friends. She was so excited to have an author in and I was whisked back to the shelf for more photos and her colleague wanted the book signed and dedicating so she could buy it. I love the staff in The Works. They are always so friendly and enthusiastic and make me feel so special if I’m brave enough to mention I’m an author.

One of my fellow Boldwood authors, Lisa Hobman, owns a pre-loved bookshop called Slightly Foxed in Berwick, along with a friend of hers. We’ve not yet met in person so we stopped in hoping Lisa might be working that day, but she wasn’t. Next time, Lisa! Slightly Foxed is gorgeous and I was particularly excited to see Starry Skies at the Chocolate Pot Café on the shelves!

We left Alnwick and drove to nearby Spittal, which we’ve never visited before, and I managed to grab some pics of the lighthouse shown in the ceiling image at Slightly Foxed before the weather turned again.

Our final stop of the day was Seahouses where we had a wander round the gift shops and an ice cream before returning to Alnwick.

On Sunday, hubby needed to do some work so my daughter and I went to The Alnwick Garden. Dogs can’t go in so Ella stayed back at the holiday apartment. I’ve never been to The Alnwick Garden but one of the lovely members of my Facebook group, Redland’s Readers, highly recommended it and it was lovely. We were lucky with the weather although it took us a while to work out that the big display on the water fountain was an hourly thing on the half hour and we kept missing it!

The gardens were stunning although we’d just missed the best time of year for the flowers, particularly the roses. I loved all the fountains and streams running through them and the beautiful gates.

There was a beautiful area with rows of cherry blossom trees and double swings. We were too late in the year for the blossom but we did have a moment on the swing. This is me trying (and failing) to look casual!

We moved onto Barter Books after that which is the same end of town as the entrance to the gardens. I’d wondered if I might see any of my books in there and was delighted to find two in the fiction section as you go in – Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café and Making Wishes at Bay View and another copy of the latter in the romance overflow in the main building. It really is such a thrill to see my books on a shelves, especially when it’s unexpected like this.

On Monday, we’d arranged for my parents to come over. They’d brought their caravan to an area about half an hour away and the plan was for hubby and me to go for a hike with my dad while our daughter entertained my mum.

It had been pouring on the morning so we were expecting a wet walk but the afternoon was overcast with a few spots of rain rather than anything torrential so, although it made for very pleasant walking conditions, the photos aren’t the brightest. Last time we visited Northumberland was February 2018 and we did the walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle along the cliff tops. We decided to do the walk to Dunstanburgh but from the other direction, starting at Embleton.

There were two lovely book libraries along the road where we parked, although no books inside by me or any author friends. I love seeing these little book libraries.

Hubby spotted a couple of hares chasing each other across a field and we stopped to watch them and were thrilled to see they were boxing hares. I’ve seen this on TV before but never in real life. My word, do they punch each other brutally! It was amazing to watch and, every so often, they’d pause to have a breather and something to eat, then be up on their hind legs thumping each other! They were too far away for me to get any photos, though.

A little later, we spotted a mouse scurrying down the path towards us and, when we hit the coast, we saw several flying fish. So much amazing nature in one place.

The weather was much better on Tuesday and we had a busy day planned starting in a place we’d never visited before: Alnmouth. The beach was beautiful and reasonably deserted when we arrived…

We had a walk along there (it’s dog friendly) and beside the river then into the village where there are some lovely gift shops.

The sand by the river was covered in worm casts. As a child, these absolutely terrified me and I’d have to be carried screaming off any beaches we visited which had casts on them. Urgh! Thankfully, I now know they’re not actual worms and just the sand left behind by them but I didn’t realise that at the time. Still gives me the shudders!

In the village there was another mini library, this time in an old red telephone box.

After the village, we took a different walk back through the sand dunes by the beach and I took some lovely pics of the walk to the beach and the lifebuoy but hubby’s were better so these are his!

Our final plan of the day was a circular walk from Amble via Warkworth Castle which we’d found in a guide book in the holiday apartment. The first part of the walk was through Amble town centre, through a new housing estate where there were some lovely distant views of the castle, but then we were just on a country road for quite a long time. It was really hot and there wasn’t much to see but I still enjoyed it. The others moaned!

When we got to Warkworth Castle, we were looking forward to a sit in the sun and a spot of lunch. Typically, the skies had started to cloud over at this point. There was an event on and, being the summer holidays anyway, the castle was quite busy.

We had a walk into Warkworth itself which is a really pretty village. There’s a Medieval bridge out the other side so we grabbed a couple of pics of that. There was a heron in the water, stood so still that I had to do a double-take to make sure it was actually real. You can just see it at the left side of the right arch in the first pic. It was great to spot another mini library opposite the bridge too.

As we walked back beside the River Aln, the weather picked up again and the view was prettier. This took us out by the harbour where there was a wrecked boat and a really interesting sculpture which you could step into for taking photos.

I’d hoped we’d make it back to Amble in time to explore the lovely huts on the harbour which sell crafts and lovely gifts, but it seemed they mainly closed between 3-3.30pm so we’d missed them all. However, there was still plenty to look at. A yacht had got grounded when the tide went out and the RNLI’s ILB (inshore lifeboat) was attempting to tow it out. There was no chance of freeing it but the next step had been to turn it to place it in the best possible position for release once the tide came out again. That was exciting to watch.

There was a big crowd watching the rescue and several members of the coastguard service on the pier in communication with the ILB. Presumably the yacht did survive and make it out safely when the tide rose again.

I’m going to leave this post for now and start on a part 2 as it’s getting pretty long so do watch out for another post later today. Hope you’re enjoying the photos.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I talk about the RNA’s conference

In my last blog post, I said I was heading off to the RNA’s conference and would report back ‘next week’. That should have been last week and I’ve just realised that, although I shared some photos on Facebook, I never did a blog post so here I am catching up.

The conference was at Harper Adams University which is for agricultural studies near Telford, Shropshire. It’s a small campus and ideal for an event such as this as there’s not too far to walk between the accommodation and lecture rooms. We were staying in the student halls and ours was the one covered in ivy on the right.

It was my fourth conference and by far my favourite, mainly because I felt much better about myself as a writer than I had the previous three times. I knew what to expect format-wise and I’d finally learned to the pressure off myself by not booking onto an event for every slot on the timetable, allowing some breathing and thinking space.

There were four out of the ten of us from my writing support group, The Write Romantics, in attendance, and there were quite a few Boldwood authors, some of whom I hadn’t met before so it was lovely to be able to say hello to them.

Write Romantics – Me, Jackie Ladbury & Sharon Booth (joined by Rachael Thomas on the bottom right)

I also had a chance to catch up with some of the delegates from my March workshop. I’d been really looking forward to sitting down and having a proper chat to them all, finding out how their writing journeys had been since the workshop, but the timetable just didn’t allow it. I’d been invited to join them at lunchtime on Saturday but my pre-lunch session ran over slightly and, by the time I made it to the back of the food queue, there weren’t many spaces left in the dining room and I knew there was no way they could save me a seat at their table. I could also see that several of them had already eaten so it just didn’t happen.

I did get the opportunity to speak to several of the group, albeit briefly in some cases, but I swear time goes into a vortex and I left thinking about so many people I’d spotted but just didn’t get a chance to say hello to properly.

On the Sunday morning, we had about twenty minutes before a session started and I looked around the coffee room but realised I’d hit a wall and was probably incapable of having a coherent conversation. Doing a job where I spend most of my time completely on my own, it can be intense and overwhelming being surrounded by people. My since apologies, therefore, to anyone I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

I did get to talk to my idol, Jill Mansell, though! We’ve spoken several times on social media and met before and it’s ridiculous that I get shy about these things but I do. I actually find it hard to approach anyone already in a conversation so add in one of my writing heroes and that escalates. My Boldwood buddy took a photo of me with Jill in the background and then took me over for a proper hello which was very special.

I met loads of other amazing authors across the weekend but took a distinct lack of photos so I’ll leave the blog post here. Thank you to everyone involved in the organising, who ran sessions, or who chatted to me. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one with a lovely walk and all the knitted things

On Saturday, the hubby, munchkin and I took Ella (our 6-year-old sprocker spaniel) for a walk near Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire (near Thirsk) on the way to a visit to my parents. The temperature had dropped and there was quite a breeze on top of the cliff so it was good to be able to take Ella out during the day. Poor pooch had been stuck indoors for most of the week to avoid melting or burning her paws on hot pavements.

There are so many gorgeous walks from Sutton Bank of varying lengths but we just wanted to do a short one so walked to the white horse. This takes us past the gliding centre and it was obviously the perfect conditions for gliding as there were two planes towing them and a queue of gliders waiting to go up.

I don’t have any photos of the white horse as you have to walk down to the car park below it to see it and we didn’t have enough time to do that. And, let’s face it, we didn’t have the inclination either as that would have meant climbing back up again! However, I did get some lovely pics of the beautiful countryside and the gliders. Aren’t those views stunning?

On the way through Thirsk, I spotted the most amazing knitting/crocheting display so we stopped off on the way back home from my parents’ although it started bucketing it down just as we drove into Thirsk so we had to loiter in the car for a bit first!

All the bollards on one side of the main road were dedicated to support for Ukraine which was lovely to see.

On the other side of the road they were all Jubilee-related. A man approached me as I was taking photos and claimed he’d made the coach (several rows down) – first attempt at anything like that but he was retired and thought he’d give it a go and was pretty chuffed with his efforts. I am ridiculously gullible and actually believed him and praised him for his work… until he walked off to the chippy chuckling and admitting he hadn’t made it at all!

Aren’t they absolutely fantastic? It was such a brilliant display. There were so many crowns and they were all a bit different but I decided I was going to have to stop taking photos of all the individual ones or we’d never make it home! With all the flower tubs too, they looked pretty special.

The cobbled area where they all were was in front of a chip shop and I noticed a hanging basket with a difference – knitted chips, ketchup, vinegar etc. Love it!

Round the corner from the main installation was Her Majesty the Queen having afternoon tea with her corgis, although the munchkin pointed out that she did look a little drunk, bless her. Excuse my random bending down on the pic featuring me. The munchkin told me she couldn’t fit us both in the photo and I needed to sit down. The bench was soaked so no way was I wasn’t falling for that!

I loved how all the raised flower beds round the display had knitted/crocheted flowers and bunting and even a horse in them. And check out that fabulous postbox topper!

And speaking of postbox toppers, the hubby and I nipped to Filey for a walk on Friday evening. Warm sugared doughnuts may also have been consumed. We spotted this amazing RNLI themed postbox topper there. The collection box for the RNLI was full to bursting and could only just take our donation.

I really love spotting postbox toppers. They make me so happy and I’m in awe of the imagination and skill of those who make them. I can’t knit to save my life and have never tried crocheting as I suspect I’d be just as bad.

Hope you enjoyed the photos. I’ll say goodbye for now but I’ll be back tomorrow as the hedgehogs return then. Yes, it’s publication day for Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow and I’m my usual mix of nerves and excitement. Eek!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I’ve had a very busy week

You know how you can have weeks with very little in the diary then suddenly you hit a week where everything happens? I had one of those last week…

It started with a talk at Scarborough Soroptimists on Monday. Months back the chairperson, Angela, asked whether I might be interested in joining them. I did a careers talk at my daughter’s school recently but this is the first time I’ve spoken to adults in real life since I was an indie author so it all felt very new.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with the organisation so was surprised to discover that Soroptimists International had celebrated their centenary last year. They’re about ensuring women and girls have a voice and you can read more about their great work here. The Scarborough branch meet at Ganton Village Hall which is a small village between Scarborough and Malton.

The talk seemed to go well and it was great to have questions afterwards. A huge thank you to the group for hosting me.

On Wednesday, I met author Rowan Coleman on Scarborough seafront for a cuppa and a doughnut (nom nom). It was a gorgeous sunny day (sunnier than the photos might look!) with a gentle breeze – lovely.

When I arrived, there were loads of primary school children emerging from ‘Aquarium Top’ to queue for an ice cream. I knew that the area that was formerly an aquarium had been painted so I took a quick look when the space was clear. How pretty is this?

On Friday, we were meant to be going to Castle Howard to see Duran Duran. This was advertised as a picnic-style gig where you take food and drink in and enjoy relaxing in a foldaway chair in front of the beautiful stately home. We’ve been to gigs there before and it’s fabulous. However, the promoters – Senbla – sent everyone an email at the start of the week with some ‘additional information’ which changed everything we’d expected. The gig was being held in a field away from the home so there wouldn’t the stunning backdrop with which we’re familiar, food and drink could not be taken in, chairs weren’t permitted, picnic blankets were an option but you might be asked to stand up when the gig started, and it was £10.20 to book parking (this being at a venue in the middle of nowhere to which you pretty much have to drive) or £15 cash on the night if you didn’t book 24 hours before. Wow! This was NOT what we signed up to!

I contacted Ticketmaster who claimed nothing had changed – it had! – and said it was the promotor’s issue, not theirs. I contacted Castle Howard and Senbla via both Facebook and Twitter to ask for an explanation and a refund and also emailed Senbla. All contact has been ignored. I’m not impressed at all.

This had been a gift for my 50th birthday but we had to give it a miss because I can’t stand for several hours and it would have ruined it attempting to do so. Sitting on a picnic blanket for ages wouldn’t be an option either – I’d struggle to get down and up again!

I’m extremely disappointed at the change to what we booked with no responsibility taken from any of the parties. So we’ve had to walk away from the money. We took a drive up to Whitby instead, got a chippy tea and went for a wander. It was strange seeing Whitby so deserted!

As we climbed back up to the car on the north side, there was the most beautiful light with the approaching sunset.

On Saturday night, I was invited over to see my friends at Wolds Hedgehog Rescue – the ‘real’ Hedgehog Hollow – for a catch-up. Nanny Angela needed to bring three hoglets over to be fed during the meeting and I had the honour of having a go at feeding one of them – first time I’ve ever done this. Awww!

Then on Sunday, I topped the week off with a visit into Scarborough. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow went into The Works a few weeks back but I missed the Scarborough ones as they arrived and sold out really quickly. I was delighted to see they’d had another delivery so had a chance to sign them. As always, the staff in there were so lovely.

I actually hadn’t expected to see the book in there so I’d thrown on the same clothes from the night before (as I’d only worn them for 3 hours) and hadn’t put any make-up on or brushed my hair. So this is the natural look 🙂

I’ve just been on to the website at The Works but Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow appears to have sold through but you will probably still find copies in your local branch.

So overall a very busy week and I’ll finish it with a photo of a garden ornament I spotted in the window of The Gift Company which I absolutely neeeeeeed, and a photo of my gorgeous Eleanor Tomlinson print of Her Majesty the Queen with Paddington Bear. I’m cheating a bit as that actually arrived yesterday – not last week – but I thought I’d sneak it in here. My Steiff Paddington (a gift from my husband on our wedding day) couldn’t resist posing with it. The print went viral after the Jubilee and the signed edition sold out really quickly but Eleanor has printed an open edition (which is how I got mine) and you can get that and check out her other gorgeous artwork here.

This week is shaping up to be really busy too – hair appointment, dentist for a filling (argh!) and also a Facebook Live at lunchtime today. So if you read this post this morning and you’re free at 12noon, you might like to join us on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page. The Live will be Jo Bartlett, Helen Rolfe and me chatting about building our communities.

Have a fabulous week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I went to Boldwood’s fabulous summer party

Boldwood Books opened for submissions at the start of February 2019, announced their first twenty authors in mid-June and the first books were published in August of the same year. By the time we’d grown sufficiently to justify trying to get everyone together for a party, a certain pandemic had taken hold and we were all plunged into lockdown.

Over the past couple of years, Boldwood have hosted several Zoom parties for their authors but Monday night was the very first opportunity for us all to meet in person and what a fabulous evening it was. More on that in a bit.

As Scarborough to London is a bit of a trek for a three-hour party, I always try to tag on something extra when I make the journey. Two of my Write Romantic buddies, Jo Bartlett and Helen Rolfe, are part of Team Boldwood too. With so many people to meet on the evening, I suggested we meet for lunch and a catch-up. Trains were fortunately running on time so we had plenty of time for lunch and a cuppa afterwards… although we all forgot to take any photos!

I’d ordered a couple of new dresses, one to wear at the party and the other to wear at the gala dinner at the RNA’s conference in July, so I had the choice between orange and pink. I went for the orange one for Boldwood’s party and wish I could claim I’d done it because orange is Boldwood’s brand but I hadn’t been that clever! Although maybe subconsciously I chose orange over pink for that reason. Yes. that sounds good. That’s my story!

The party was being held at Fulham Palace and many of the #TeamBoldwood authors were staying in the nearby Putney Bridge Premier Inn so we’d arranged to meet in the bar there at 5.30pm to have a quick drink and wander along to the venue for a 6pm start. It was a really pleasant walk through the park although we were a bit late leaving the bar so there was no opportunity to stop for photos.

Fulham Palace was a lovely venue although I was too busy chatting to explore properly. It was a chance to meet the full team from Boldwood although I didn’t get a chance to meet a couple of the editors so must rectify that next time.

I met some of the team from ISIS Audio and Ulverscroft who create and distribute our audiobooks, our main contact at Kobo, and Boldwood’s web designer. I also had the chance to meet Sue Lamprell who has been the proofreader on every single one of my books so far. What an absolute delight it was to meet Sue after working on so many books together and only ‘speaking’ by email. Wish I’d taken a photo! Do you sense a theme building here? I used to be brilliant at taking photos at events but after a couple of years of barely going anywhere, I seem to have got out of the habit! Anyone else finding that?

The party was a great opportunity to catch-up with authors I’d met before, those who I’ve known for a couple of years via Facebook and also some of the newest whose addition to Team Boldwood was only announced that morning!

The three hours passed too soon and it was time to say goodbye. There were so many other people I’d have loved to speak to so hopefully next time. There were lots of authors who couldn’t make it due to holidays, distance or illness so I’m looking forward to meeting them at another point too.

A huge thank you to Amanda Ridout, our CEO, and the rest of Team Boldwood for hosting such a lovely, warm, welcoming event. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

I accosted a security guard and asked if he could take a photo of a group of us leaving. It was very tempting to jump into the fountain and recreate a Friends moment. We managed to restrain ourselves!

L-R Jenna Houston (BW Marketing Exec), Gemma Rogers, Nia Beynon, Debbie Young, Jessica Redland, Helen Rolfe, Jo Bartlett, Laura Kingston (BW Sales Assistant)

We received a gorgeous notebook on the way out, celebrating Boldwood’s recent amazing award, and a pen, earphones, bag and thank you card from Ulverscroft. Love a bit of stationery and a goodie bag!

My journey home on Tuesday was a little challenging. I received an email before I boarded my train in Kings Cross to say the train for the York to Scarborough stretch had been cancelled. The trains only run hourly so my hubby checked online that it was definitely cancelled (it was) and offered to come through and pick me up. I got off the train at York, checked the departures board, and it turned out my connection wasn’t cancelled after all! We then got massively held up on the way home to detour round an accident on the A64 which had closed the road so I didn’t get home much before I would have done if I’d stayed at York and waited for the next train (not that I’d have needed to wait when my original one ran after all!)

Hedgehog Hollow 6 had a deadline of Tuesday night so the lost time was a bit stressful and I ended up working a really late one trying to finish the book. I didn’t quite make it – ran out of brain power – so I submitted it without the last chapter complete then rose at 6am to finish the rest. Edits will be back to me for next week. I can’t quite believe I’ve finished the series although I don’t think it will feel like I’ve properly finished it until I’ve completed the edits phase. It’ll definitely hit me then!

Wishing you a fabulous end of week/weekend.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I turned fifty

It was my birthday yesterday (1st May) and I hit the half-century which doesn’t feel real because I still don’t feel any older than I did at thirty, although my body would beg to differ. I try to avoid sitting on the floor these days as it’s touch and go as to whether I can get up again!

I don’t normally go big for birthdays and I’m not one for big nights out drinking but specifically wanted to celebrate turning fifty, especially when so many people I know (my husband and older brother included) were unable to celebrate big occasions during lockdown.

With going away to the Lake District for a fortnight over Easter, we didn’t want to venture very far. We have two Forest Holidays sites near us called Cropton and Keldy – both just 45 minutes drive away – and we’ve been to them both in the past when our daughter was young and we could stay out of season (cheaper!) Even though a bank holiday weekend was going to be pricey, we decided to go for it with it being a special occasion.

Look what I found in the gift shop in the reception! I had to have him! His name’s Bramble and he is soooo adorable.

The great thing about going on holiday somewhere so local is getting there quickly and being able to enjoy your evening rather than spending it travelling. We were there as soon as check-in started and we had a little wander round the site before having a relaxing evening in our log cabin with food delivered from the on-site restaurant.

Saturday morning – the day before my birthday – dawned with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. We decided to go for a walk round nearby village Thornton-le-Dale then visit Pickering, get some lunch, and take it up to the castle.

I’ll admit it does feel a little weird being on ‘holiday’ and visiting places that we regularly visit anyway but the point was to get away and have a relaxing time. If we’d stayed at home, I might have taken my birthday off but I’d have worked for the rest of the weekend.

Thornton-le-Dale is such a picturesque village and it was gorgeous to see ducklings on the river and the pond. So cute. There are some stunning houses and I always joke they’d be where an author would live as the views are inspiring. I doubt they come on the market very often and, if they did, they’d be way out of our price bracket but it’s nice to have dreams.

We’ve not visited Pickering Castle as a family before so it was great to explore the ruins and the grounds and generally enjoy the sunshine. Pickering Castle is an English Heritage site and you can find out more about it here. It’s a lovely place to visit and the views are fabulous.

We returned to the cabin with time for a Cornish cream tea which my fabulous friend and super talented author, Sharon Booth, sent me, followed by a sneaky glass of wine in the hot tub before getting ready to go out for a birthday tea.

On the evening, we met my parents at a nearby pub. They’d brought their caravan to a site in the area so they could see me for my birthday. The person who’d taken the booking over Facebook Messenger hadn’t written it down which was a bit fraught as they were full but they made space for us, thank goodness.

I won’t name the pub as these things happen and so much of the hospitality industry is struggling with lack of staff but it was a lesson learned for me never to make a booking for any pub via Messenger in future. I only did it that way because it was out of hours but I’ll wait and do it via the phone when the pub is open going forwards!

The following day – my actual birthday – it was pouring when we woke up and it put a real dampener on things (literally). It had been such a gorgeous day before and the thought of traipsing through the forest in the rain didn’t appeal.

We decided to take a trip to the market town of Malton but hadn’t paused to think about whether the shops would be open on a Sunday. Most weren’t. So we had a walk round (mainly closed) Malton although the good news was it had stopped raining and I gazed longingly in the gift shop windows.

I wanted some cakey loveliness and had been hoping to find some in a nice independent bakery but there were none open. We nipped into a farm shop and a garden centre on the way back to the cabin but it was mission unsuccessful. Hubby, bless him, did a detour via the high street in Pickering so we could nip into the cafe/bakery where we’d bought lunch the day before – Russell’s Cafe & Traditional Bakery. They had a window full of the most delicious-looking slices of cake. They were on a deal where it was cheaper to buy three but the munchkin wanted something not in the offer so, after asking for hubby’s, I had to pick two for me. It would have been very wrong not to! And, oh my goodness, they were delicious. If you go to Pickering, definitely visit Russell’s. The sandwiches for lunchtime the day before were delicious too.

We returned to the cabin and decided that, as it was dull, we’d relax and watch a film but we couldn’t find anything we particularly fancied. We went for the recent re-make of The Secret Garden starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters but it’s a slow story and I was getting fidgety. I will watch the end but we put it off and went for a walk along one of the forest trails instead although I was a bit full after my double-cake indulgence and could probably have been rolled round the trail.

The munchkin and I had time for another dip in the hot tub, this time with some champagne (for me) before Mum and Dad came over to the cabin on the evening to look around and join us for a birthday tea. They brought a balloon and cake with them which was lovely.

We had planned to do something today (bank holiday Monday) but it was another dull day and we decided that, as we still hadn’t settled back in after our Easter trip, it would make more sense to get back home and get organised. I only have a couple of weeks left to write my final Hedgehog Hollow book and I’m only a fifth of the way through it so I have a lot to do. Catching up today (or trying to) means I can be head down from tomorrow. Or at least that’s the plan!

I couldn’t really think of anything I wanted for my birthday but my Kindle is on the way out so I got a new Paperwhite and hubby and daughter surprised me with a lovely new watch. From my parents and brothers, I got some money to buy a teddy bear but instead treated myself to a limited edition Herdy while I was in the Lakes. It’s made by Merrythought who are a longstanding UK-based teddy bear manufacturer (so nearly a bear!) and I’m completely in love with him.

A huge thank you to everyone who sent cards, gifts, flowers and best wishes, helping to make my fiftieth a special day.

Hope you’ve had a lovely bank holiday weekend and, if you’ve worked it, hope you get a break soon.

On a final note, even though it’s my birthday, I’m giving away some gifts. The wonderful The Friendly Book Community over on Facebook have been celebrating their first birthday with some amazing giveaways across the week donated by the lovely Admin team and some of the authors. If you haven’t already joined this group and you love books, you might want to do so, as it’s a warm and friendly space to be. And then you can be in with a chance to win one of my bundles. There are 4 for UK-based readers and 1 for overseas readers. You can find the group here and you have until Friday to be in for a chance of winning on my giveaways.

Big birthday hugs
Jessica xx