It’s Christmas Eve! We’ve been up to Whitby for a wander around this morning. I predicted quiet, hubby predicted packed and I was right although it was getting busier as we left at about 1pm. Perhaps everyone had been braving the food shopping this morning and had ventured out for a wander this afternoon. Look at that gorgeous blue sky! I’d wrapped up warmly in a blanket scarf and my new coat, affectionately nicknamed ‘the duvet’ because it is quilted and just like wearing a duvet. It’s just from Sainsbury’s but it’s probably the warmest, most gorgeous coat I’ve ever owned. Anyway, it was welcome in the shadows but I was a tad on the warm side in the sun.
How adorable is that whale in the bottom photo? It’s made out of recycled plastic bottles and is for depositing your plastic drinks bottles. He looks very happy.
This is my last post of the year and I’m going to have a little look back over some of the extra special moments across 2022. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll have had some insight into this already with a special Merry Christmas newsletter this morning. If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here.
I’m going to do my reflection mainly in photo format.
In 2022, I’ve had four brand new releases outand completed the six-book Hedgehog Hollow series…
Three of my books have gone into The Works, bringing the total up to eight books going into branches of The Works and online. What an honour! A huge thank you to the staff in all branches of The Works who are always exceptionally friendly and in particular the manager Jamie and the staff at the Scarborough branch who love me going in to sign copies.
It’s always a thrill to see my books when out and about. This year, I’ve spotted them in other branches of The Works, Irton Garden Centre near Scarborough, the Helmsley Bookshop, Beverley Bookshop, Barter Books in Hawes, Good Reads Discount Bookshop in Whitby, Slightly Foxed in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the Scarborough and York branches of Waterstones (not all shown here).
AWARDS AND MILESTONES
I was thrilled have Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café shortlisted as a finalist in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Novel of the Year Christmas/Festive category. I went down to the Awards ceremony in London in March and, although I didn’t win, it was a fabulous event.
In the summer, I celebrated a sales milestone of 750,000 units sold since joining Boldwood Books – a number I never thought I’d have a hope of reaching.
Also in the summer, Boldwood Books celebrated their third birthday and I hit the third anniversary of my debut release – The Secret to Happiness.
There’ve been some amazing milestones with reviews/ratings, all of my books currently having at least 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon alone, including the most recent release. Several of my audiobooks have stormed the Top 20 of the Audible chart but my absolute highlight was this month when Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop made it to #4 in the overall Audible chart.
I didn’t think that could be topped but, this week, I discovered that the Hedgehog Hollow series is in Audible’s Top 20 of the best trending series of 2022 and Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow is in the Romantic Comedy Top 20 too. Wow! I was not expecting that and the company those hedgehogs are keeping is phenomenal. I can’t get over those big names we’re alongside!
If you want to check out the full listing, you can find it here.
Two of my books – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – have been translated into Swedish through Lavender Lit. The third one – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – has also been acquired by them and will be out in spring 2023. I’m hoping they’ll take the final three too but they hadn’t been written at the time the deal was made.
It’s lovely seeing foreign translations and I adore the covers from Lavender Lit. I love the way they have kept the colours and themes of the English versions but put their own spin on them.
I also had an offer from Serbia to take two Hedgehog Hollow books which was really exciting, but I had to decline it because the offer was actually for book one and six and, although each book is a complete story, the characters are consistent and there are themes that build across the series. I didn’t feel right agreeing to a deal where book six wouldn’t make sense read after book one. Hopefully 2023 will bring other offers.
I trained on a one-month workshop in March through RNA Learning which I loved and for which I had incredible feedback and was invited back again for 2023.
Boldwood held their first face-to-face party in May which was a lovely event and I attended the RNA’s summer conference which I really enjoyed.
Stockton Libraries invited me to speak at Norton Library and it was wonderful to have such a big audience. I had been looking forward to speaking at the Richmond Walking & Book Festival too – my very first festival – but my slot clashed with our Queen’s funeral so had to be cancelled. Fingers crossed for next year.
I’ve had lots of get togethers with my bestie, talented author Sharon Booth who I’m thrilled to say has secured a publishing deal with Storm Publishing with a new series out through them starting next year, and with author Eliza J Scott.
Sharon and I both met up with Lizzie Lamb when she was on holiday in the area, I met four of the amazing five admins of The Friendly Book Community on Facebook when they came to Whitsborough Bay (aka Scarborough) for a weekend, and Sharon and I had a few days in York with our writing friend Jackie Ladbury. I do love spending time with book people as there’s never a shortage of things to talk about!
I spoke at a meeting of the Scarborough Soroptimists and spent some time with my friends at Wolds Hedgehog rescue – the real Hedgehog Hollow – with an amazing chance to feed a hoglet. I also went on a needlefelting workshop to make a robin in honour of the Hedgehog Hollow series (if you know, you know).
I celebrated turning fifty in May. I don’t feel anywhere near my age, although my creaking knees do!
As a family, we’ve had a few holidays, making up for the pandemic years. We spent Easter in the Lake District which was partly a research trip as I’m, setting a new series in the Lakes next year. We had a week in Hawes in Northumberland in August, deferred from February half term when the hubby and I both came down with Covid. And we had a week in Lanzarote over the October half term break which was our first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic. It was lovely to be away again.
It’s been a busy old year but a lovely one too.
If you’re thinking it all sounds very rosy, there have been some tough moments too. I’ve had Covid twice – although thankfully not too seriously – and the downside of the first time was missing a gig and a holiday. My mum was poorly earlier this year which was a worrying time. I’ve struggled with some deadlines and suffered with conjunctivitis on a couple of occasions, making deadlines even harder. There’ve been other challenges too but I’d rather end the year focusing on all the positives and hope you can too for your 2022 as, even in the darkest years, there’ll always be chinks of light.
Wishing you and yours an amazing Christmas. I hope the final week of the year brings you happiness, hope and positivity. Thank you to all the readers/ listeners/ authors/ bloggers/ friends and family members who have championed my work this year and the amazing Team Boldwood. Your support means the world to me and gives me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing, especially in those dark moments where I think I lack the talent/am incapable of writing another book.
SPOILER ALERT – This post relates to the real-life inspiration behind one of the key storylines in Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow so you might not want to read this if you haven’t read that book just yet…
Do you read the acknowledgements at the back of the book? I do. They’re mainly about the author thanking various people who have provided advice, support and encouragement in that particular book’s journey to publication, but they sometimes give details of the real-life inspiration behind elements of the storyline. I find that touching and fascinating so it’s something I always try to include in mine. If you’ve read the acknowledgements at the back of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow, you’ll know that the story of Samantha’s baby coming into the world is my own.
I met my husband Mark in 2003 and we married in September 2005. I was 33 and he was 35 at that point and we knew that our ages meant it was probably best not to delay starting a family, especially when we wanted three children, both being one of three ourselves.
Our baby was due on 4th January 2007 but a routine consultation with my midwife in early December 2006 saw me being referred straight to hospital with hypertension (high blood pressure) and suspected pre-eclampsia. I had an overnight stay for monitoring and was released only to be sent straight back as my BP soared even higher. The pre-eclampsia remained mild but the BP was cause for concern and I spent December in hospital on constant monitoring. It was awful. I was worried about what might happen to the baby, especially as I’d had a miscarriage prior to this pregnancy, and being stuck in hospital on your own for weeks is a lot of time to think and to fret.
There was a lot of talk about inducing the baby but I experienced several cancellations due to lack of staff or a full delivery suite. Each day was another opportunity for my baby to grow and gain strength, but also another day to fear something bad. Eventually it was my turn. I was taken to a separate ward, just like Samantha, and given a pessary but the first one didn’t work. Other mums came onto the ward after me and headed off to give birth before. When my editor Nia read the book, she made a comment that it was just like when Rachel in Friends is waiting to give birth and it really was like that. When would it be my turn?
The second pessary worked and, on the afternoon of 19th December, I was whisked off to the delivery suite with my husband, Mark, and labour started. Everything I describe in the book is what happened to me including the very scary moments… Ashleigh arrived into the world at 11.45pm at such speed that she shot across the bed and had to be caught. The heart monitor was tangled in her mass of dark hair. She wasn’t breathing. She was blue.
Mark and I felt so helpless, desperate to hear that first cry, fearful for the worst as our baby was rushed to the side (clip now free) and medical staff rubbed her with towels. We didn’t even know if we had a boy or girl at this point! Thankfully a cry filled the room and our daughter was handed over to us, wrapped in a towel, but it wasn’t over yet. She was unexpectedly tiny at 4lb 11oz. Nobody had picked up on that in the scans I’d had in hospital so it took them – and us – by surprise. She was only a fortnight early and they’d thought she’d be bigger. Although not premature, she needed to spend some time on the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) as she might need some additional help feeding. We’d have been discharged later that morning if she’d been 5lb or more.
I had a massive panic about our baby being taken away from us. All sorts of scary possibilities like her being switched, stolen, or falling ill filled my mind and I asked if Mark could go with her. That wasn’t a problem so I sent him off, begging him to make sure she was properly identified as ours. Mark returned assuring me that Ashleigh was fine and, after I’d finished with all the post-birth aspects, I was wheelchaired round to see her. It broke my heart to see our tiny little girl in a crib hooked up to wires with a tube up her nose. I’d wanted to breastfeed but it wasn’t possible. She was too small/tired/weak to latch on so she had to be fed by the tube up her nose which went direct into her stomach.
The days that followed were so difficult. I moved into a small private room along the corridor from the unit so I could be buzzed from the SCBU when Ashleigh woke up. I kept trying to her myself but it didn’t work. Some midwives helped. Some made me feel completely useless and inadequate. I spend a lot of the days that followed in tears, not able to pick up my baby, not able to feed her, not able to do anything I’d expected to do. I knew I was fortunate – there were premature babies in incubators on the ward who had more of a battle ahead of them than mine – but it was still really hard.
Christmas was rapidly approaching and I hadn’t expected to spend December in hospital. I hadn’t put the tree up, hadn’t done my Christmas shopping, wasn’t prepared at all. One of the kinder midwives suggested I take a day off – 23rd December I think it was – to go home for the day and do some Christmas prep and she’d do the tube feeds for me. I was so grateful for that but I didn’t enjoy my day, worried about Ashleigh. Like Samantha, my feet had swollen and only my flip-flops fit. It was winter and cold so my priority was to get into town and buy some bigger footwear. After a huge amount of effort, I managed to get my feet into some lace-up boots two sizes bigger than normal. I was drained and emotional. When I went to the shoe shop till wearing them, the assistant insisted I removed them so she could make sure I’d picked up a pair of the same size. I burst into tears. Thankfully the manager was nearby and she understood my emotional gibberish about just giving birth/swollen feet/exhaustion and she gently led me to a nearby chair and removed my shoes, checked them, then put them back on and laced them as though I was a toddler. I was so grateful for her kindness.
Back at hospital, all I wanted to do was get Ashleigh home for Christmas but nobody ever seemed to be around to give me an answer. There was a midwife who scared me – the ‘Brenda’ character in my story. She’d been extremely unhelpful when I asked her for some support breastfeeding and she was all about the snide comments and sneers. But that evening she was the only person available to ask whether there was any chance Ashleigh would be home for Christmas Day. She laughed at me. Who does that? So I cried again and can honestly say I’ve never felt so alone or vulnerable in my whole life.
We didn’t get our Christmas miracle. I woke up on Christmas morning in my single room and padded along the corridor to the SCBU where I dressed Ashleigh in a reindeer onesie and booties, like Samantha does in the book. They were too big but they were adorable, even if I didn’t feel very Christmassy at all.
I was ‘released’ on Christmas Day to go home for Christmas dinner. My parents had come to stay as we’d anticipated a lovely first Christmas at home with our baby. I don’t remember much about that day other than not being able to enjoy a moment of it, knowing I needed to get back to the hospital.
When we returned to the ward later that day, we finally had some good news. Ashleigh had woken up and demanded a feed so, if that continued during the night, we could take her home on Boxing Day. I was allowed to move into a special room on the SCBU with Ashleigh that night and I prayed it would be our last one. It was. She came home at lunchtime on Boxing Day but the difficulties didn’t end there. I still wanted to feed her myself but, with it being Christmas, there was no support available. The midwife from my local surgery did visit but she terrified me too. Each time I’d seen her before my hospital admission, she’d made comments about how old I was and how fat I was. When she’d first called the hospital to have me admitted, I was in the room with her at the surgery and she described me as ‘enormous’ over the phone, looking me up and down with disgust. I actually wasn’t enormous. Already a size 18 before expecting Ashleigh, I barely gained any weight during pregnancy, my body shape simply changing. She therefore wasn’t the empathetic carer I needed.
The next couple of years were the hardest of my life. I’m convinced I had post-natal depression but I was too afraid to open up to the scary midwife about what I was feeling for fear of judgement from her – old, fat mum can’t cope – so I battled it alone. The whole experience drained and traumatised me so much that I couldn’t face going through any of it again. Ashleigh doesn’t have siblings.
When I wrote Samantha’s story, I hadn’t intended to mirror my own experiences but it made sense to do so. They say write what you know. This was what I knew and I had directly felt every exhausting and heartbreaking moment of it. But, being fiction, I could also change a few things. Samantha was able to take her baby home on Christmas Day, and she got the support she needed to breastfeed Thomas in the end. As for whether baby Thomas gets any siblings, you’ll have to read Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow to find out.
It was Ashleigh’s sixteenth birthday at the start of the week so I’ve inevitably been reflecting on that difficult time sixteen years ago and it still hurts. I’ve blanked so much of it out but parts of it such as my local midwife calling me ‘enormous’ and the ‘Brenda’ I encountered on SCBU have definitely scarred me for life. If anyone else has experienced anything like this, I sent you hugs because it’s horrible.
To finish on a happy note and a spooky coincidence, when I was expecting Ashleigh my mum was going through a phase of knitting toys to raise funds for charity and she asked which one I’d like her to knit to celebrate Ashleigh’s birth. I was particularly drawn to a town crier so she knit that and my dad printed off Ashleigh’s birth announcement for the town crier carry. What’s the town crier? He’s a hedgehog!
I hadn’t finished writing my first book at this point and Hedgehog Hollow wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye but it was as though I knew! I’d actually forgotten about the town crier being a hedgehog until after I’d finished Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow. How wonderful that I’d incorporated Ashleigh’s birth story into my final hedgehog book and her birth announcement had been a hedgehog!
Wishing you a fabulous Christmas and hope some Christmas miracles come your way.
My favourite part of the lead-up to Christmas is putting the tree up. Or should I say trees plural because we have more than one! Our main tree is in the conservatory so we can see and appreciate it from the lounge (not quite enough room to fit it in the lounge). We have a very small table-top pink tree in the lounge which is officially my daughter’s but I also have a four foot one in the dining room. This is because I love seeing trees in front windows and the dining room is at the front of the house.
This summer, we had a bit of a shift around of rooms. The dining room and conservatory had both become dumping grounds and weren’t used so we cleared everything out, moved the dining table into the conservatory, and the dining room became my new office and I decided to do something a little special with the tree in the bay window, only decorating it with items relating to my writing journey and books.
MY WRITING JOURNEY
I spotted a light-up gonk in a garden centre with my name on so couldn’t resist adding that to the tree. I believe these are also available in branches of Clintons.
I bought some gorgeous book stack baubles from John Lewis several years ago and I have some gorgeous checked hearts which say ‘Love’ (shown) ‘Hugs’ and ‘Wish’ on them which are perfect for what I write about. There are several other heart-shaped baubles on my tree and a very special bauble which my amazing publisher Boldwood Books sent to all their authors this year. It’s handblown glass shipped from Israel, made by muslims and christians, and it sits alongside my ‘Make a Wish’ star because I made a wish to be a full-time author and Boldwood made that wish come true.
I have a Christmas lighthouse (note the wreath on the door) and another lighthouse and anchor which aren’t strictly Christmas ornaments but look great on the tree.
What seaside resort wouldn’t be complete without a seagull? Yes, I know it’s not Christmassy either but I had it made a few years back by the amazing Emma of ChilliPepperbyEmma who has an Etsy which you can find here and it was begging to go on the tree. Sadly, Emma has had to take the decision to temporarily close her shop knowing she couldn’t fulfil Christmas orders due to postal strikes but do check out her designs all year round as she does all the seasons/occasions and they’re amazing.
All You Need is Love features an orange VW campervan called Thor and I have another of Emma’s designs representing that as well as a gorgeous yellow embellished one from Accessorize. You can find it here. I’m going to put links in for any ornaments available at the time of writing this but they may have sold out by the time you read this. I also have a red campervan although I can’t remember where I bought that as it wasn’t this year.
The heart with the beach huts isn’t strictly a tree decoration either but, as you don’t tend to see many nautical Christmas decorations around, I thought it looked pretty. This comes from a gorgeous gift shop called Pedrington’s Portal on the way down to the seafront in Scarborough. It’s run by two sisters and all the items are hand-sewn or hand-crafted by them.
In All You Need is Love, main character Jemma’s mum runs a specialist teddy bear shop on Castle Street called Bear With Me. There are therefore lots of teddy bears on my tree. I started collecting Me to You tree ornaments when I was in my twenties and bought my first home. They released four designs each year and I’d buy the collection but there were soon understandably repetitions on the themes so I stopped collecting. Some of the collection are on the tree this year along with a couple of soft versions of the grey bear – one dressed as gift and another as a snowman.
The Forever Friends bears you can see peeking through the branches were from when I ran my own teddy bear shop, Bear’s Pad, between 2003-2005.
The felt bears – the brown one with the Christmas pudding on its tummy and the white one dressed as a snowman – came from a teddy bear craft fair and the brown material one with ‘hugs’ in its tummy came from a shop in Northallerton full of locally-made crafts. Isn’t it cute?
I love my angel bear tree topper which I’ve had for years. You see the black bear tangled in fairy lights? That came back from my honeymoon in Canada in 2005 and is perfect for my bookish tree because, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly spots a teddy bear called Tangled who has become tangled in fairy lights in Bear With Me, and buys it for her clumsy sister.
The Starfish Café series is set just outside Whitsborough Bay and has a strong connection to the RNLI. I have three three decorations from the RNLI shop – a blue RNLI bauble, a penguin in his life vest, and Finley bear in his full RNLI kit. The penguin is particularly relevant to the first story in the series – Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café – so I also have another penguin on my tree. I won’t tell you why it’s relevant as that would be a big story spoiler and you’ll just have to read the book to find out!
To represent The Starfish Café and The Chocolate Pot on Castle Street (featured in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café), I have some lovely cake and drinks-related decorations. The mugs of hot chocolate both came from garden centres. The plate with a cake on was a gift from my bestie, author Sharon Booth and I love it so much as we do love a bit of cake when we meet up and, as Sharon knows, a Victoria sponge is my favourite. This definitely looks good enough to eat and would be available in either café. I have a gingerbread man, as featured in Starry Skies, and a piece of Christmas cake too.
To go with the titles, I have stars and snowflakes. The embellished ones are from Accessorise but they appear to have sold out online. And, of course, I have the embellished cupcake which could be sold in either cafe and in Carly’s Cupcakes.
I do need a seal to add to my collection of decorations for The Starfish Cafe so will need to keep my eye out for one of those.
I have more bears than anything else because I’ve been collecting bears for a lot of years, but hedgehogs aren’t far behind and I keep seeing new ones each year. I made some graphics last year showing off my hedgehog collection so far so I’m going to add those below.
I have felt hedgehogs from craft fairs or Etsy…
I have flat and round baubles. The sparkly round one was from M&S last year and I bought several of them so I could give some away when Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow was released this year. Do watch out on the Book and Tonic social media posts for stacks of fabulous competitions and giveaways as part of the #12DaysofHedgehogs…
I have several more realistic looking hedgehogs…
Some sparkly baubles…
I have some wooden ones. I particularly love the one on the right. It’s such a stunning picture and looks great on the tree…
I also have some more quirky looking hedgehogs, a couple of which have been gifts from friends. How crazy are those coloured ones?…
And it’s not just the tree that’s a hedgehog haven. I have several decorations not for the tree. The large sparkly one top left is another prize in the #12DaysofChristmas – although not that exact one, of course. I bought an extra one as a prize…
This year, I’ve had a few additions to the collection. The first one is from Accessorize too and the second is from Next. Duplicates of both are up for grabs as part of the #12DaysofChristmas.
The two flat wooden ones were from Etsy, the one with the stick was a gift from my friend and author Eliza J Scott and the lovely silver one in the circle was a gift made by a reader…
But it isn’t just hedgehogs that are relevant to Hedgehog Hollow. Robins are a particularly important part of the story and I have several robins on my tree including a gorgeous Wrendale bauble to match my hedgehog one. I also have the robin below the tree which I needlefelted myself as shown in my last blog post, and this gorgeous sign on my bookshelves.
Fizz and Darcie are huge fans of unicorns so there has to be a unicorn on my tree, and Jonathan (main character Samantha’s dad) has an obsession with pigs in blankets with Christmas dinner so I have a couple of those too and a gorgeous crocheted one a lovely reader made for me. Thank you, Hazel. And I have some butterflies too for the butterflies in the wildflower meadow.
For those who have read Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow, you’ll recognise the happy mistletoe from Jellycat, available here.
Healing Hearts at Bumblebee Barn isn’t out until 24th January but I had to get it on the tree now with these three amazing very different bees. Thank you to lovely author Jo Bartlett for the addition of the first one pictured.
And finally, the full tree and decorated shelves…
I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of my book-themed tree. I loved putting it together. Wishing you a fabulous Christmas.
The final book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow– was released on 6th September and I’ve been stunned at the speed it has gathered reviews on Amazon because a book set partly at Christmas, with the word ‘Christmas’ in the title and a cover featuring a hedgehog in a Santa hat is something I know that many readers won’t buy/read this far from Christmas.
When book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, was released in January 2021, I recorded on a blog post my astonishment at it receiving 100 reviews in a week, 400 reviews by day 19 and 1,000 within 2 months. Book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, eclipsed this. At a fortnight it had 300 reviews but it reached a whopping 1,000 on it’s 3-week anniversary. They just kept coming – 700 reviews in the space of one week! I wondered whether any of the other books in the series would top this or had that been the pinnacle?
Christmas Miracles hit 400 reviews on day 12 so it was looking surprisingly good to steal the crown from book 3 but, by day 20, it was at 600 and there was no way another 400 would come in within the space of one day to match the 1,000 at three weeks. And they didn’t. It was another 50, though, which is still phenomenal and something I still can’t believe I’m writing when it used to take months to gather a handful of reviews pre-Boldwood.
So the award for getting to 1,000 reviews in the most unbelievably quick time remains with Family Secrets but I suspect Christmas Miracles is going to get there sooner than New Arrivals did, perhaps in 5 or 6 weeks rather than 2 months.
The quality of reviews has been phenomenal too. As at the three-week anniversary yesterday, a whopping 88% of my reviews were at 5-star and only 3% were 3-star or below. I’m so grateful to everyone who has shown so much love for the hedgehogs. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ll get a stack of negative reviews to redress the balance!!!
I’ve had gorgeous messages on my reader Facebook group – Redland’s Readers – and lots of DMs with lovely feedback for this book and the series as a whole which have been so touching.
I had such an enjoyable chat with my editor, Nia Beynon, on Monday in a Facebook Live. We talked all about the series and I did a reading from Christmas Miracles. If you missed it, you can catch up on it here. I couldn’t resist wearing my autumnal hedgehog dress from Popsy Clothing. I also had a hedgehog necklace on and hedgehog earrings (and socks!) but you probably can’t see them on the video. Got to be done!
Please keep that hedgehog love coming. The hedgehogs and I are so very grateful for all your kind words and recommendations. Quick reminder that Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow(book 1) and Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow(book 5) are on a 99p eBook offer in the UK and one or both are on an equivalent discount in other territories so please spread the word. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is also FREE in Prime Reading globally and the audio version is FREE to Audible subscribers as part of the Audible Plus programme. And, finally, ALL my books are FREE on Kindle Unlimited or to borrow via most libraries.
It’s publication day for Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow tomorrow. When asked how I feel about publication day, I often say I’m nervo-cited – a mixture of nerves and excitement – but this time I’m far more nervous than excited and kind of thinking I’d like to hibernate for the day.
This is my seventeenth book but, as nine of my titles are re-issues, it’s actually my twenty-sixth publication day so you’d think I’d be used to it by now and not be fazed at all. Not the case. If anything, I think it gets harder and this one is the ‘worst’ yet.
I always knew that publication of this particular book would be a toughie because it’s the last book in a six-book series and there are so many readers out there who absolutely don’t want the series to end. Seeing comments on social media about being sad that the series is ending and how reading the last book will be bittersweet is exceptionally flattering, but it brings with it guilt and pressure.
I feel guilty that I’ve ended the series. I stand by it being the right thing to do, but I feel like the mean adult who has taken the toys away from the lovely children!
And I feel the pressure of wrapping up a six-book series in a way that satisfies, thrills and delights. Having said that, I’ve felt that pressure all along with each new book declared by many as ‘better than the last’. Part of my reason for ending the series at six was to end on a high note and not stay too long at that party, but there’s always been the fear that the next book would be the one that stayed too long. Would readers think book six was that one?
Early copies of the book go onto a site called NetGalley which is meant to be for genuine book bloggers/ reviewers/ influencers with a big platform of followers who get a free copy of the book in return for an honest review which will hopefully entice their following to make a purchase. Unfortunately this system massively gets abused and there are readers on there who grab free books without a second thought as to whether the book/ author/ genre is actually right for them. But that’s a separate story.
When used properly, NetGalley reviews give the author and publisher a sense of how well the book is going to be received on actual publication day and it should also give them some great early reviews to use in promotion.
There are always negative reviews in there – we can’t all like the same thing – but I’ve had more negative reviews than usual for Christmas Miracles. It has been so frustrating as they’re nearly all from readers who claim not to have realised this was the last book in the series and this is the first one of the series (and often the first one of mine) they’ve read. Personally, I think the parts of the blurb I’ve popped in capitals here would be a bit of a clue that it’s the last in the series: Jessica Redland WELCOMES YOU BACK to Hedgehog Hollow this Christmas FOR THE FINAL TIME IN THIS SERIES for a heartfelt story of love, family, friendship… but that’s obviously not clue enough.
Several of these negative reviews comment on there being a lot of characters and how confusing it was to keep track of everyone and their back stories. Of course it is! You need to have read the whole series to gradually meet everyone and get to know their stories. This cast wasn’t there from the first chapter of book 1. They have steadily grown.
In the main, I’ve been able to ignore these reviews because this is not a standalone book and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone diving in at this point because it won’t make sense. It isn’t meant to. But over the weekend, I read a review (also from someone who hadn’t read any of the other books) that floored me…
It began with these words: “In the acknowledgements, the author says she is a “pantser” when it comes to writing, and girl…. I can tell.” Ouch! Clearly written by someone who has no idea what pantser means or an understanding that it’s not an inferior approach to writing. I got the full meaning of her comment here – that I’d just slapped down any old rubbish and had no idea what I was doing.
She writes, “I have never really understood when people write super mean book reviews but I honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this book” and then guess what happens? She goes on to be that person who writes a “super mean book review” with a horrendous 1-star 550-word rant including one of the meanest comments ever: “Color me shocked when I realized this author has published 17 books and this is the 6th in this series… I am in complete shock that even one book like this got published, let alone 6.” This is really personal now. I get that she didn’t like the story and I completely understand why she’d be confused when she hadn’t read the others, but to suggest I can’t write and should never have had 17 books published! There’s no need for that.
Her closing words are: ““Miracles” is a bold word to use in your title when you made fictional characters just to give them horribly traumatic life experiences. I see no miracles in this fictional world, only pain, like the pain I feel when I realize I spent 5 hours of my life on this. Do not recommend.”
Wow! She certainly didn’t hold back on how much she hated the book. And me!
One of the key objections in the main body of the rant – which I haven’t shared because of spoilers – is the subject matter. I write about life and life can throw some tough blows. Across this series, there have been a number of difficult issues explored and they are alluded to in the final book along with the issues handled in that instalment, but this reader lists them all as though they all happened in one book. So I do know that part of the reason she hated it so much was that she hadn’t read the rest of the series and I keep telling myself that, but I just struggle to understand why someone can be so nasty … especially when they’ve declared that they can’t understand why people do this either!
Life’s too short to read a book that you’re not enjoying. You don’t need to invest ‘5 hours of my life’ on a book you hate, that you’re not following, whose subject matter you aren’t enjoying. Shut down the Kindle and accept it wasn’t for you. You haven’t paid for it. Nobody has forced you to read it. Walk away.
I know I should take that advice and walk away from this review and, in other circumstances, I’d probably lick my wounds and do that, but I’m struggling this time because I’m a bit stressed and rundown at the minute. I tend to get problems with my eyes when that happens and the worst-case scenario is that I get conjunctivitis which I have right now. It’s a virus and, although stress doesn’t cause a virus, the body is more likely to pick one up when a person’s rundown so this is my body telling me I need to take care of me a bit more – something I’m not very good at. In the great scheme of things, conjunctivitis is nothing compared to what many people are facing so I can’t really complain, but I think it has made me more sensitive to the Negative Normans and more worried about publication day tomorrow as a result.
I don’t shy away from tough storylines and, while there are loads of readers who love that about my books, there will always be something that somebody doesn’t like. Many of my regular advance readers have given superb reviews and commented that, although the storyline was tough, I’ve tackled it with my usual sensitivity. But a couple of my regular readers who have loved the series so far have said they haven’t liked this book as much as the others, with some even giving negative ratings because one of the topics I’ve covered is an uncomfortable one. Yes, it is, but it is not uncommon so I have included it. I also don’t give any specific detail. Having a couple of big fans of the series drop a couple of marks for that reason is adding to the nervousness around tomorrow.
As I can’t get away with hibernating – far too much work to do – I’ll smile and face tomorrow but my stomach will be churning all day, far more than usual.
A huge thank you to the wonderful Boldwood authors who have been so supportive and encouraging during my wobble. You are superstars.
To anyone who is going to be reading Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow this week (or listening to it from 20th September – slight delay on the audio version), I hope you love the story as much as I do. I’m very proud of this end to the series and, despite the negative comments from some, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s the story that Fizz and Samantha needed to tell and I’m honoured to be that conduit for telling it. I already know that a couple of readers have resonated with some of the subjects explored and have found it immensely cathartic.
My latest release – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – which was released just over seven weeks ago (28th June) has just hit 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon.
Not only is this a milestone for the fifth book in the series but it’s also a milestone for all my books because every single one of the UK releases now has at least 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon. I find this quite astonishing because it seems only yesterday when I had only one title approaching 100 and was longing for the others to pass 40! Thank you Boldwood Books for finding me readers and for everyone who has read any of my books and shared the book love. I’m so very grateful.
I’ve done a little number crunching and here are a few discoveries on AMAZON. These are just the UK editions:
Most reviewed/rated book:Snowflakes Over The Starfish Cafe with 5,794. This was helped by being in Prime Reading at the start of the year
Most reviewed/rated book in the Hedgehog Hollow series: I still find it a little weird that it isn’t the first one. The most reviewed is book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, with 4,840. Incidentally, book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, is the next most reviewed at 4,598. Book 1, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, has 3,766
Least reviewed/rated book: Aside from Chasing Dreams which has just hit the 1,500 mark, it’s book 3 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series – Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove – with 1,565. If we’re going to be really pedantic, the series box set actually has the least reviews but, as it the amalgamation of four titles, I’m not classing it separately
Average rating: Every single book has either a 4.6 or 4.7 average. That’s a lot of love out there for Whitsborough Bay (including The Starfish Café) and Hedgehog Hollow
Overall number: I’m so close to an astonishing 50k milestone. I have 49,658 reviews/ratings overall. Eek!
OVER ON AUDIBLE…
Most reviewed/rated audiobook: The Secret to Happiness is the most reviewed/rated with a whopping 3,903. The next closest is Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow with 1,887. Both these titles are free to subscribers as part of the Audible Plus programme which has led to more listeners trying them so it’s not a surprise they’re the most reviewed although it’s interesting how far ahead The Secret to Happiness is
Least reviewed/rated audiobook: This is Spring Tides at The Starfish Café with 274. Chasing Dreams is ahead of this with 313
My books are on Kobo, Apple and various other sites too but most sales come from Amazon and Audible so I have only explored those for now.
THANK YOU to everyone who has left a review or rating for anything of mine they’ve read or listened to. It’s a lovely way to say a thank you to the author for a book you’ve loved, and on Amazon that activity kicks in their algorithms so massively helps with visibility.
I’m off to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) Conference tomorrow. I attended a couple of virtual ones during the pandemic but the last time I went to one in real life was four years ago when it was held in Leeds and look who I met!
They say don’t meet your heroes but not in this case as Jill Mansell was just as lovely as her books. I, however, was a gibbering fan-girly wreck and was actually shaking at the photo opp! I couldn’t believe it when I spotted her nearby and was far too nervous to approach her myself, despite a couple of glasses of wine inside me, so I asked the RNA Chair if she could introduce us!
I fell in love with romance books after reading one of Jill’s. I’d never read anything in this genre and a friend loaned me Millie’s Fling on holiday and I loved how fun and romantic it was and how it left me with the warm and fuzzies. I devoured all her books after that and, for the past twelve years or so, have annually purchased her new release on hardback and have a Jill shelf in my office.
I’m really looking forward to the conference this year for several reasons:
Being my fourth conference, I know what to expect. It’s actually at the same place as my second one so I’m even familiar with the venue
I’ve been an RNA member for a decade and know so many more people now so (hopefully) won’t have that startled rabbit situation. Or hopefully not!
I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to which sessions I’ll attend. In previous years, I’ve chosen something for every time slot which can make for an exhausting experience. This year, I’ve allowed myself some downtime
I’ll have a chance to meet several Boldwood authors who I’ve never met in person which will be lovely
I’ll get to meet several of the participants from the RNA Learning workshop I ran in March and I’m really excited to hear how their writing has progressed since then
I won’t be having any publisher 1:1 appointments (more on this shortly)
I feel very differently about my writing
Let me explain those last couple of points…
Four years ago at that 2017 conference, I was in a dark place with my writing. I was a struggling indie selling a handful of books a week and fearing I might have to give up writing as I couldn’t keep investing all the time (alongside a demanding FT day job) with no pay-off.
A valuable part of the conference programme is the feedback slots available with industry professionals (editors and agents). I managed to secure four of these – all with editors – where I pitched a brand new manuscript called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye.
My manuscript wasn’t complete which actually resulted in Editor D reprimanding, saying it was very unprofessional of me. Ouch! I understood what she was saying as you would never submit to a publisher when an MS is incomplete but the annual timing of the conference means that this may sometimes be the case and it’s not a requirement of the sessions to have a complete MS. Also, the humiliation to be told off by someone half my age! I felt like I was back at school!
Anyway, despite the telling off, all four editors wanted to see the full MS which gave me a massive dilemma because Editors A and B wanted it to be a light-hearted romcom and Editors C and D wanted a deeper more emotional women’s fiction story. With the MS being unfinished, I faced a decision around what direction to take it in because whichever I chose was going to rule two of them out.
While confusing, this was a very happy dilemma to have, especially for someone feeling so down about their writing. My biggest takeaway was that four editors wanted the full MS. Surely one of them would want to take me on.
Editor A asked me to submit one of my indie books in the meantime. As she wanted the romcom approach, I sent her a lighter story (what is now Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop) and a more emotional story (what is now All You Need is Love). The rejection was positive but still a rejection: you write well with a lovely style. However, I’m afraid I don’t think any of these are quite right for our list at this time. I would be happy to take a look at a new idea in due course though should you wish to submit to us again.
I decided not to submit to Editor B. She’d been the least enthusiastic, I couldn’t see us working together and she wanted a romcom which, by this point, I knew wasn’t what I wanted to write and, in finishing the story, I’d stuck to my gut feel that I wanted to write more emotional stories.
I was really proud of my finished MS and had high hopes for Editors C and D who’d wanted the emotional story.
From Editor C: …think you have an interesting premise. However, after careful consideration, we don’t feel that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye is quite right for us. Your writing is great, and there is huge warmth and emotion in your narrative. All of the women’s stories are hugely poignant, but because there were three of them, it felt at times like there wasn’t quite enough space for each story, including the tragic events before the book begins, to be fully explored. The women’s fiction market is so tricky at the moment, and what we tend to be looking for at the moment are in-depth emotional stories with a tight scope, or high-concept stories that can be pitched in a single line. I’m afraid that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
As rejections go, it was a positive one and I tried to hang onto the lovely comments about my writing which is always hard when it’s ultimately a no. I was encouraged to submit other stories so I sent the original version of All You Need is Love to them too and had another rejection: Again, there is a lovely warmth to your writing and the situations your characters find themselves in are incredibly sympathetic, but I’m afraid that this isn’t one for [us]… As you know, the women’s fiction market is so difficult at the moment, and I don’t think that we could reach a bigger audience for you than you have managed yourself. Again what is missing for me is that specific, focused concept that we could use to hook readers in with a single line. For me there were again quite a lot of characters introduced in the early chapters and I felt this did make it difficult to keep track of them all and to work out whose stories were the main focus of the book.
While I was asked to think of them again for future books, it was clear to me that I didn’t write what they wanted so I couldn’t bring myself to court further rejection and closed that door.
Which just left Editor D. Despite her telling me off, I had a feeling that she was going to be the one. She wasn’t: It was such a pleasure to meet you at the RNA conference in July and I’ve looked forward to reading your submission. I absolutely loved diving back into the world you’ve conjured here and the changes you made to the manuscript have really improved the pace and tension which is great. There was a clear improvement from the MS I read back in July. Sadly though, as the story went on I struggled to empathise with the characters as much as I wanted to. Rather than being invested in their journeys I felt they lacked the necessary depth and layers, I wanted to see more of their emotions and feelings on the page. In such a competitive book market we have to ensure we feel passionate about the book and characters and sadly I just couldn’t find myself getting lost in Alison or Karen’s story as I couldn’t connect with them. In terms of next step I recommend looking at how you can weave more depth into the characters, offering readers different layers to uncover from them all.
This floored me. The feedback I’d received from readers of other books suggested that getting lost in the characters’ stories was a strength of mine and that I could write emotion well. Obviously this was just one person’s opinion but, in my dark place, this told me that the things I thought were positives weren’t. And it broke me. I wasn’t invited to submit anything else either. Door closed.
By early December 2018, a couple more submissions I’d made of Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye came back as rejections and I felt so lost. The voices of doubt in my mind were having a field day:
You can’t write
No wonder you’ve barely sold any indie books
All those thousands of hours were a right waste of time
It’s time to give up and accept it’s never going to happen for you
You’re fooling yourself that you have talent
And so it went on. Just when I was feeling at my absolute lowest, Amazon rank-stripped me. An automated email accused me of engaging in dodgy activities to manipulate sales or pages read on my bestselling book (what is now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) in the USA. It was absurd. In the timeframe this wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place, I’d sold one eBook in that market and had the equivalent of one eBook read on Kindle Unlimited. If I was going to manipulate sales, surely logic would say I’d have sold more than two books!
Rank-stripping means that the book disappears. It has no ranking so it has no visibility. The only way a reader can find the book is by specifically searching on the title. Ironic, really, that the book at the time was called Searching for Steven and the only way he could be found was by literally searching for him! And not just in the USA where I was accused of naughtiness. This was all markets!
Naturally, I protested and asked for more clarity on what I was meant to have done. Cue an automated response telling me that no more information would be given and accusing me of still engaging in said untoward activity and that if I didn’t stop it, all my books would be removed from the site! What?!
So I protested, which just triggered another auto-response. There were four bot responses in total, each more threatening than the one before.
My Christmas was ruined that year. I was barely selling anything anyway but this pretty much took everything from me and left the fear that I’d be removed from sale completely. I’d been wondering if I needed to give up and it seemed Amazon agreed too and were potentially going to make it happen, whether I wanted it or not.
It took two months for them to reinstate the book. No apology. No explanation. Two weeks later, the exact same thing happened to the same book. Argh!
In January 2019, I saw an advert for a new publisher called Boldwood Books opening for submissions on 1st February and I felt drawn to them. One more try. And if it was a no, it might just be the time to throw in the towel.
Reader, they said yes.
And the book that lacked emotion, lacked depth, had no concept, had too many characters with whom there was no connection became my first release through Boldwood Books in September 2019 under the new title The Secret to Happiness. It has sold more than 70,000 copies across all formats, has been an international Top 10 bestseller and, at the time of writing, has over 3,600 reviews on Amazon alone, 93% of them positive.
For any aspiring authors out there, please do take some learnings from my experiences:
Keep believing in yourself and keep going. While I felt like giving up on so many occasions, I knew I never could. If, like me, stories burn inside you, then keep writing them
You need a lot of patience. Getting traditionally published is about landing the right MS on the right person’s desk at the right time. That’s a lot of stars to align and it doesn’t happen that often … but it can. Hang on in there. If you’re going down the indie route, you still need patience as there’s a lot you need to learn and do to get your book visible and it will take time
Reading is subjective and what one editor passes on, another may love. What is one reader’s scathing 1-star review is another’s favourite book
And on that note, I’ll share with you a 1-star review I’ve just spotted for The Secret to Happiness. An Amazon user in March this year declared that it was “written for children… predictable and long and drawn out. Utterly disappointed” The same reviewer gave a 5-star review to a pair of flat shoelaces!
And my latest for the same book is oozing with meanness: “Oh dear… Drivel. Embarrassingly bad dialogue. Tedious plot and poorly constructed characters. I had the unfortunate experience of the audiobook which added a further eye-rolling level of dreariness”.Honestly, is there any need to be so nasty? So the book wasn’t for her but this audiobook is actually free on Audible Plus so I can pretty much guarantee she has listened to it because it was free so it’s not like she’s even spent any money on it. A 5-star review from her has gone to some fabric dye. Classic.
But that’s fine because that’s their opinion and a huge number of readers disagree. So do my publishers. And so do I!
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and, even though I was devastated at the rejections from Editors C and D, I’m so grateful that it was a no from them because I couldn’t imagine being in a happier place than Boldwood Books. It’s my home.
I’m off to do my packing for the conference now. Hubby has been to fill the car with fuel and has returned with some emergency biscuits. I need to get them off my desk and into my suitcase as the temptation to break into them is already strong!
What a busy day it has been! Not only has it been the publication day of Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow but we’ve also had a cover reveal for the final book in the series: Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow. I absolutely love the cover – I mean, what’s not to love about hedgehogs wearing Christmas hats?
Book 6 will be out on 6th September so not long to wait and can be pre-ordered on Kindle UK here. It will go up for pre-order on Audible and other eBook sites nearer the time. A little heads up on the audio version is that, while we aim for all formats to be available on publication day, there will be a slight delay with the audio and it will be available a week to ten days later so please bear with us on that.
I’ve been out for most of the day and have had no WiFi connectivity which has been a bit frustrating so I was able to respond to messages first thing but not since. I hope to catch up tomorrow. Thank you everyone who has wished me publication best wishes and said kind things about the story. I’m so very grateful.
I’m still reeling at the current chart positions too. Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow is currently #27 in the overall Kindle chart and #42 in the Audible chart. I can’t quite believe it! The only eBook of mine that has reached a higher chart position on Kindle UK is New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms which happened when it went on a Prime deal. This is purely on pre-orders and purchases today and I’m so overwhelmed. Keep having to pinch myself!
So let’s talk about book 6 going up for pre-order and the series ending…
Since book three, I’ve been transparent about the series coming to an end and, after the release if book 4 – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – in January, I’ve been very clear that there would be two more books, both out this year.
It’s so flattering that readers and listeners love Samantha, Josh and all the other characters so much – human and spiky – and want the series to keep going and I’m so grateful for that love and support. There’ve been expressions of disappointment, requests for me to keep writing the series indefinitely and a joke among some lovely fans of the series about staging a protest in my front garden (during which I must feed them biscuits) which has been great fun, making me laugh. What hasn’t been quite so fun are a couple of reviews stating that I’ve let readers down by ending the series. A particular advanced review said very little about the book and was instead a rant about how annoyed they were with me for this being the penultimate book. Eek! That’s a bit harsh! It’s not like I’ve abandoned it mid-series with a gazillion unfinished plot points.
The Hedgehog Hollow series has been exceptionally successful. What started out one book – a blending of an exercise I did on my Masters in Creative Writing with the desire to set something in a hedgehog rescue centre, inspired by my auntie’s work as a hedgehog rescuer – grew into something I don’t think any of us ever imagined. There’s a lot of love out there for hedgehogs. And quite rightly so!
Readers/listeners might therefore think I’m a little bonkers to end a series which is so popular so I thought I’d explain several reasons behind this decision:
Reason 1 –Not staying too long at the party
Anyone who read the acknowledgements at the back of book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, will know that a couple of early reviews of book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow completely put me off my stride. Those reviews said I should have stopped at the one book because nothing happened in book 2 and it was all padding. Ouch! That hurt so much that I couldn’t write for several days and had a huge panic about agreeing with my publishers to extend the series.
Thankfully more lovely reviews came in and the pre-orders, sales figures and quality of reviews have shown that, while there will always be some readers who decide they’ve had enough and dip out of a series, the vast majority of my readers have loved all the books and can’t get enough of Hedgehog Hollow.
But there’s always that fear at the back of my mind that, if I keep going on indefinitely, I will hit the point where those ‘should have stopped earlier’ comments are valid criticism and even I agree with them.
For me, for my amazing cast of characters and for those wonderful hedgehogs, I want the series to end on a high.
Reason 2 – Having enough stories to tell
There’s a large and fascinating cast of characters connected with Hedgehog Hollow and they all have stories to tell but some are more interesting than others so, in creating this series, I’ve needed to think about who has something interesting to say, ensuring the main storyline remains fresh and very different from book to book while keeping some of the series threads and themes going.
Many of the characters are so closely connected to each other that in telling one character’s story, I’ve revealed much of another’s story too, meaning there’s insufficient left to explore in a separate book.
If we take Samantha’s parents, for example – Jonathan and Debs – their lives are so tied in with Samantha’s storyline and much of their backstory has already come out within Samantha’s narration. I did toy with a book where Jonathan was the narrator (then changed my mind) but I was always adamant that Debs wouldn’t narrate one. This is because the relationship between Samantha and Debs is a key thread across the whole series and giving Debs a book would lessen the impact of following that thread through Samantha’s eyes. We’ve already discovered why Debs is the way she is through information shared across the series and we know the relationship history between Debs and Jonathan through other books so, if I told her story (or Jonathan’s) I’d have been regurgitating known information which would take away the excitement of a backstory reveal.
It’s the same with Josh’s parents, Connie and Paul. Enough of their backstory has already been revealed through Josh in New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow and we’ve kept a track of how they’re doing with their new partners throughout the series. They don’t need books of their own. I could write them but the ‘staying too long at the party’ criticism would be deserved if I did.
Reason 3 – Giving Samantha her happy ever after
This is actually the biggest reason for stopping at six books. The way I set up this series was to have Samantha as the narrator all the way through. This makes sense. After all, Samantha is Hedgehog Hollow. She’s the person who set it up, she’s the person who runs it, she’s the connection to all the other characters.
From book 2 onwards, a guest narrator whose life is connected to Samantha’s has told their interlinked story. While the ‘big’ story is usually the one belonging to the guest narrator, Samantha does need to have key things happening in her life to keep her story interesting and not just padding.
SPOILER ALERT – Skip over these next 2 paragraphs if you’ve just started the series
In New Arrivals, we found Samantha struggling to balance the needs of the rescue centre alongside her full-time role as a tutor, resulting in her collapsing at work and accepting she couldn’t do both jobs. In Family Secrets, she started experiencing PTSD episodes as a result of the vendetta from the Grimes family and, in A Wedding, she was planning her wedding while dealing with the theft of the rescue centre’s money and the subsequent arrival of Phoebe and Darcie.
There have also been three key relationship threads developing across the series – with Josh, her mum and Chloe – where something has changed in each book to move those relationships forward. With Josh, this has been the stages in their relationship, with Debs it has been the gradual thawing of hostilities, and with Chloe this is about Samantha standing up to her during her selfish moments, developing Samantha’s confidence and resilience.
NO SPOILERS FROM NOW…
So there’s always been a conflict/challenge facing Samantha in each book running alongside the ongoing relationship threads.
I sometimes get messages from readers, see comments on social media, and read remarks in reviews telling me to lay off Samantha and asking when I’m going to let her have her happy ever after. I love that readers adore Samantha and want her to be happy but my response is always that, if I give Samantha her HEA, the series ends. Without conflict, there’s no story to tell.
Much as I understand this desire for Samantha to settle down with Josh, have babies, have a calm and quiet life rescuing hedgehogs, no more family conflicts and no more trouble with the Grimes family, do readers really want to read about a ‘normal’ happy life? Of course not! They want to be excited, moved, drawn into a story. And a HEA doesn’t do that.
Which is why the series must end.
My amazing editor, Nia, had also questioned the sense in ending the series when it’s doing so well but, when she read my first draft of Chasing Dreams, the reasons clicked into place for her. She could see what I was saying about how increasingly difficult it would be to have a story for Samantha to tell. I had conflict planned for her in books 5 and 6 but where else would I go beyond that?
There’s conflict I could bring in to keep the series going. I could mess things up for her and Josh. I could introduce a number of scenarios leading to arguments or even a split … but why would I do that? For a start, they are such a well-suited couple. They don’t argue. They’re a partnership, supporting each other through everything so this wouldn’t sit with the relationship I’ve built. I doubt the readers would appreciate it either. Why invest in a couple only for the author to then split them up? And Samantha and Josh certainly wouldn’t thank me for it. One of the things that was really important to me was that, when they got together, it would work for life and I know from reviews that readers have loved how solid they are.
What to expect from the final book
There is one more story I want to tell which is Fizz’s. I loved her from the moment she turned up unexpectedly on the page. With her pink hair and sparkly unicorn T-shirt, she made a strong first impression and I just knew she was going to become a key character.
Running alongside Fizz’s story, Samantha will have one more challenge to overcome before I finally give her a happy ever after.
The final book – Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow – is available for pre-order on Kindle now and will have conclusions for many of the supporting characters. It will go up for pre-order on Audible and other eBook formats nearer the time and be available as a paperback from publication day. I’ve shared the blurb at the end of this post.
Is that it for Hedgehog Hollow?
The great news is that, although this is the end of the series, it’s not the end of Hedgehog Hollow. I still plan to write a prequel book telling Thomas and Gwendoline’s story which I’m excited to write. This is currently penned in for release in July 2024 on the 4-year anniversary of the release of the first book in the series – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – but no definite promises on this just yet. Things can and do change in publishing.
I’m also planning some spin-off books which will tell the stories of people who become connected in some way with Hedgehog Hollow, whether as volunteers or for some other reason. I can’t give too much away as that would give spoilers for what’s coming up in Chasing Dreams and Christmas Miracles but readers will get to catch up with what’s going on at the rescue centre without Samantha being the narrator (and without me having to mess up Samantha’s life!)
I’m really looking forward to writing the first one of these – which I can confirm will be out in January 2023 – and I think readers will be happy with the glimpses into life at Hedgehog Hollow through the eyes of new characters.
So that’s why the series is ending! Would I ever write another Hedgehog Hollow book (other than the prequel)? Never say never but I’m not planning to do so for the moment.
Thank you to everyone who has fallen in love with the series and with hedgehogs. Your support and kind words have meant the world to me. For those who are disappointed, please don’t be sad – feel happy instead that you travelled to Hedgehog Hollow and made new friends and know that there’s more to come from the Yorkshire Wolds, Whitsborough Bay and my new setting in 2023 of the stunning Lake District.
Big hedge-hugs Jessica xx
It’s the countdown to Christmas at Hedgehog Hollow Wildlife Rescue Centre, and everyone is gearing up for a festive season to remember…
It should be the most wonderful time of the year for Samantha and Josh as they prepare for the arrival of their first baby. But life at Hedgehog Hollow rarely goes to plan and the pair are faced with adversaries, old and new, and unexpected challenges to overcome.
Fizz’s job at the heart of the rescue centre is a dream come true but her personal life is more like a nightmare. With her love life a disaster and her past about to dramatically catch up with her, she needs the love and support of her Hedgehog Hollow family more than ever.
As the snow falls over Hedgehog Hollow, will Samantha and Fizz find the Christmas miracle they need to overcome their heartache and find happiness?
Top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland welcomes you back to Hedgehog Hollow this Christmas for the final time in this series for a heartfelt story of love, family, friendship – and hedgehogs of course!
I have two publication anniversaries. I have 23rd May which is the day that my debut novella was published and today – 3rd June – when my debut novel was published, both seven years ago. I tend to think of today as being my proper publishing anniversary as the novella snuck in last minute as a prequel to my debut series and the big build was for the publication of Searching for Steven (now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) on 3rd June 2015.
I sometimes do reflective posts to celebrate key milestones and these usually involve me talking about my journey to publication and the struggle of the first five years as a published author. Today, I am going to be reflective but in a different way. I want to look at some of the changes that I’ve noticed in the publishing industry during those seven years. I emphasise the use of the words ‘I’ve noticed’ as this isn’t some deep research piece; it’s my observations.
I’ll start with some of the really positive changes/initiatives I’ve seen…
INCREASE IN AUDIO POPULARITY
It’s widely reported that audiobooks have had a massive surge in popularity over recent years. I’m not going to quote facts and figures at you but, believe me, we’re talking enormous. The pandemic helped but they were already on an upward trajectory.
Audiobooks have made reading accessible to a much wider audience and I love hearing from listeners as to when/where they listen as it’s so varied – while out walking (with or without a dog), driving, when struggling to sleep at night, while doing household tasks like ironing or cooking – as well as those who love audio because reading is a challenge due to chronic illness, eyesight, arthritis or any number of other health issues.
One of the (huge number of) wonderful things about my publisher, Boldwood Books, is that they don’t wait until a certain amount of time has passed or a certain level of sales are attained before an audiobook will be considered. It’s part of the multi-format offering right from the start, meaning all preferences are catered for from publication day.
A positive initiative within audio is the Audible Plus programme. Launched in the UK in July 2021, this is a catalogue of over 7,500 titles which are free to Audible subscribers. I will admit that I had a moment of panic when Boldwood contacted me to say that six of my titles were going into Audible Plus, especially when I only had eleven books out at that time meaning we were giving more than half away for free. It has, however, turned out brilliantly because I regularly get messages from readers or see reviews stating that the listener wouldn’t have picked my books but decided to give one a try as it was free and they became hooked, finishing the rest of the series – or even my whole audio collection – using their credits.
The six titles of mine are shown in the graphic below and it includes the first of the Hedgehog Hollow series and the first two of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, acting as great hooks into the rest of those two series.
AUDIOBOOKS AVAILABLE ON STREAMING SERVICES
The way people listen to music has changed a lot over the past decade. I’ll admit that I’m old school and still buy CDs although I need to change that because all I do is upload them onto my Mac and listen to them there. We own a CD player but it’s old and past its best and I got a pre-loved car recently and it doesn’t have one so I don’t really have anywhere to play them!
Anyway, streaming services are where it is for music but did you know that you can also listen to audiobooks this way? It’s not promoted by Spotify or other providers because, while a CD is naturally broken down into tracks, a book isn’t. Boldwood use a company called Zebrulation who carve up the audiobook into three-minute tracks to fit the streaming model. If somebody has subscribed to a streaming service and is listening to a streamed book that way, they won’t notice any difference to listening to it on Audible. However, if they’re listening to a free version with adverts, they’ll have 3-4 tracks and then an advert. The advert break may come mid-sentence so it’s not the ideal listening experience but it’s another format which some will love.
The author gets paid, even if the listener is using a free streaming service.
RETAILERS WORKING WITH INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS
Historically, if you were with an independent publisher, you had pretty much zero chance of getting into a bookshop or supermarket as they would only deal with the big publishers. If an author has the confidence to approach their local indie bookshop, WH Smith or Waterstones, they might be able to convince them to stock copies of their books and even host a signing event but this varies massively from shop to shop. Some are very receptive and some aren’t.
Recently, there has been some evidence of supermarkets and chain retailers trialling books from smaller publishers. The Works have been leaders in this. They’ve had a programme with Boldwood since spring 2020. It stalled at the beginning as we went into lockdown when the first books were meant to go into store, and it had a hesitant re-start but it’s back on track and I’m very thrilled to have had six books into The Works so far. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow has gone into shops very recently and readers may still find copies of New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow loitering on the shelves if they’ve been placed high, low or behind other books.
This week it’s half-term and I went through to Monks Cross, a retail park on the outskirts of York, with my daughter. That’s where our nearest Asda is and I can’t resist looking at the books any time I’m in a supermarket (not very often as hubby does the food shopping). I was delighted to see Boldwood author Erin Litteken’s The Memory Keeper of Kyiv in there. It’s the only Boldwood book to go into Asda so far but it’s a fantastic start and huge congratulations to Erin.
Another Boldwood author is going into Sainsbury’s but I can’t say who yet as it’s not my news to share but hopefully that will also pave the way for others. And there’s some other exciting news involving a high street retailer which will also hopefully be a success. (Apologies for being cryptic but it’s also not my news to share but fingers crossed it will be one day).
These are all really exciting developments in publishing since I’ve become a published author, but now I move onto the not so positive trends…
READERS EXPECTING BOOKS TO BE FREE
Oh my goodness, where do I start on this? Let’s go for two myths:
Myth 1 – Authors are rich: Even if someone is not a reader, they’ll have heard of certain authors because their books have been so entrenched in popular culture and often made into films/TV series, such as J K Rowling, E L James, Stephen King, Dan Brown and so on. And, of course, the more recent publishing phenomenon Richard Osman. These authors are right at the top of their game and their bank balances will reflect that.
But for most authors, it is a struggle to make money from publishing. Many still have a day job around which they write. For my first five years as a published author, I had a demanding full-time day job and wrote on evenings and weekends. My writing goal was to earn enough to leave the day job. I’m very thankful that I have been able to afford to write full-time for the past two years … for now. This is in jeopardy for many authors because of the alarming trends I’m going to discuss but let us address that other myth first.
Myth 2 – Authors are not ‘real’ authors if they want to make money: Excuse my abbreviated swearing but WTF? This is currently all over Twitter and BookTok and I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. I can’t help thinking that this absurd attitude is a way of justifying the blatant theft of books which I’m going to come to a moment.
There is some kind of crazy attitude towards the creative arts that it’s all about the creative just wanting their words/music/art to be out there in the public domain for the benefit of the people because that is reward enough for us. Again, I say WTF!!!!
When I’m asked for writing tips, one of the ones I give is Don’t become an author because you hope to make lots of money. Write because there’s a story burning inside you that you have to tell. The reason I say this is because most authors don’t make much money so if you’re in it hoping to be the next top-of-their-game millionaire, then that’s not a good enough motivation as you will invest a gazillion hours and very likely not even earn a tenth of minimum wage for that effort. But it does NOT mean you should expect to earn nothing from your writing. We still need to put food on the table and pay the bills! A real author is someone who has written a book which has been published. And they deserve to be paid for it.
So, with those two myths laid out bare, what terrifying trends have I seen in my seven years as a published author?
Trend 1 – Readers who’ll ONLY buy ebooks when they’re on a free promotion
I’d like to think that it goes without saying that if an ebook is free to you the reader, the author makes nothing from it. There’s not some clever loophole here. ‘Selling’ it for free means zero income for that ebook. As an aside, an ebook for 99p generates very little income too. For an indie author, they will receive 35% of this amount from Amazon i.e. 35p. I don’t know the exact amount from other sales platforms but it will be similar. This percentage rises to 70% if the ebook is £1.99 and above so the author needs to sell four ebooks at 99p to earn the same as one book at £1.99. For those with publishers, the figures will vary slightly depending on the deal the publisher has negotiated but it’s a similar principle.
What’s brilliant about free promo books is that it allows you to try an author who isn’t known to you with no financial investment. If you don’t like the book/their style, then you haven’t lost anything other than the bit of time it has taken you to read it (or partially read it if you ditch it). I personally don’t ‘buy’ many free books but I have occasionally taken advantage of a free offer and have discovered a few new-to-me and debut authors this way.
Another great thing about a free promo is grabbing a backlist book from an author you love. Perhaps you discovered that author after they’d released several books and it would be a huge financial outlay to grab their entire back catalogue in one go but this gives you the chance to acquire the one you’ve missed while paying for others.
But there is a worrying trend of readers who will ONLY buy books when they’re free. I’ve seen comments on Facebook groups specifically asking which books are free at the moment and, while not a problem in itself – who doesn’t love a bargain? – it’s the accompanying comments suggesting ways of always getting free books (some of which I’m going to cover as separate trends) and discussions about how books should be free all the time.
When I was an indie author, I put several of my books on a free promotion over time and I justified to myself that giving them away for free – particularly a first in series – would hopefully generate additional sales (and therefore income) as the readers who had them for free would love my books/be hooked in. I found no discernible difference in sales. Why? I’ll never know for definite but there is a school of thought that, because there’s no lengthy buying decision and no investment in a free book, the ‘purchase’ will often just sit on a Kindle and never be read. Eek!
Since joining Boldwood, I’ve had a few free offers but they’ve had more success. In August 2020, we offered Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes for free as a specific promotion plan to lead-in to follow-on book Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café being published a month later. I believe it generated some interest for Starry Skies … although it also gathered me a handful of negative reviews for Carly’s Cupcakes from people who didn’t like this type of book (but had grabbed it for free) and people who thought it was too early for Christmas (but still grabbed it for free!)
Apple’s Free Book of the Week programme has been successful for me. I’ve had Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Series) and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series) in this programme and they have both generated good sales for the rest of the series, particularly for the Hedgehog Hollow one. The author makes no money from the free book but hopefully gains new readers who buy the others in the series (and maybe even a backlist).
I absolutely do advocate taking advantage of free offers and 99p promotions but if a reader never pays for a book, they aren’t supporting their favourite authors because those authors aren’t making any money from this and, as already stated, myth 2 is crap! We can’t survive on air!
Trend 2 – Pirate Sites
Downloading a book from a pirate site is theft and there’s no justification for it. It’s also very dangerous as some of these pirate sites aren’t even legitimate because they’re about grabbing your details and/or giving users a virus.
Encouraging users to get free books from pirate sites is something I’ve seen on social media with regular users justifying their use through myth 1: Authors are rich and they can afford it. Even if we all were, that still doesn’t justify stealing from us.
Another ‘justification’ is I’m skint and can’t afford books. So the solution is to steal them? Wow! I completely understand that finances are tight for so many, especially this year with the hideous hike in, well, absolutely everything! But theft isn’t the answer because finances are tight for many authors too and pirate sites are making them even tighter. So many authors have to stop writing because they can’t afford to continue. For those who don’t have the income, there’s this amazing facility called a library. I appreciate that libraries can only stock a small proportion of books written but ebooks are very accessible through a number of library routes – readers don’t have to physically go into a library. And the author gets paid. It’s not much (11p or thereabouts) but it’s roughly on par with how much they’d earn on the sale of a paperback and it does add up.
Trend 3 – Only getting ebooks from NetGalley but not being an influencer
NetGalley “connects publishers with reviewers, librarians, booksellers, media, and educators who discover new books on NetGalley and recommend them to their audiences” (NetGalley’s website). The idea is that, in advance of the publication date, a publisher will provide a copy of an ebook for free to those in an influential position who have an audience/following and can give an early review to create a buzz about the book and hopefully generate pre-orders or sales on/just after publication.
Where NetGalley is properly used, it’s brilliant. Each book my publisher releases goes onto NetGalley and embarks on a blog tour on publication date. The reviewers/bloggers on the tour get hold of the ebook through the site and share their thoughts on a pre-agreed date on the tour. Some influencers not on the tour will also get hold of it and share their reviews.
But so will a stack of other readers who don’t have that influence. They use NetGalley as a source of perpetually free books. They need to leave a review on NetGalley’s website to keep their feedback rating high (which is what publishers look at when approving who can get books) and that’s the bare minimum some will do. Many barely even manage that, leaving a generic sentence which suggests they haven’t even read the book. Last year, I spotted a very generic short NG review which sounded familiar. I noticed that the same reviewer had shared that exact review for my previous release and a bit of wider checking revealed a stack of author friends who had the exact same generic review from them too. Perhaps they read them and this was just a bit of lazy reviewing, perhaps they didn’t, but it didn’t benefit the authors in any way.
I am very grateful to the readers who use NG properly – the ones who leave a spoiler-free review specific to that book (doesn’t have to be long but does need to be specific) and who have a platform to share this. Sadly, there are far too many who abuse this system. If a reader cannot say hand on heart that they meet the description in the quote at the start of this section, then they are not supporting their favourite authors because they are getting all that author’s releases for free and, as already stated, we can’t survive on air. And if we have no income, we can’t keep writing.
Trend 4 – Returning ebooks for free after reading them
This is the most alarming trend which actually makes me feel physically sick. It started around March when several videos went viral on BookTok (on TikTok) with an ‘awesome hack’ – that you can buy an ebook on Kindle and, after you’ve read it, return it for a no-question refund. Authors started reporting phenomenal increases in returns and some are even now in a negative balance with Amazon because, even though Amazon are giving the reader a refund, they’re charging the author for the return.
I received my royalties statement for March this week and it was significantly lower than the statements for the previous few months – roughly a 20% dip. This could be coincidence and I write this having not yet spoken to my publisher about it but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit too much of a coincidence for that dip not to be the result of returns.
Just because Amazon’s returns policy makes this possible, does it make this right? A hundred per cent not! Why? Because it’s THEFT.
Life is full of decisions and some of those turn out well and some of them not so much. You go to the cinema to watch a film and sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate it but you won’t get your money back if it’s the latter. You buy a CD and you listen to it and don’t like it but you have to suck it up. You buy a dress and wear it out but you decide it’s not really you/you didn’t feel comfortable in it so it hangs in your wardrobe and you don’t wear it again. I have so many clothes like that! Or you go out for a meal and there was nothing technically wrong with it but it just wan’t to your taste. You don’t get your money back. So why would someone read a book and think that it’s okay to return it after they’ve consumed it just because they didn’t love it? Or, perhaps even worse, they did enjoy it but they decided to get their money back anyway because the policy allows it.
This has to stop. I barely slept last night and my stomach is in knots today worrying about this and what this means for the future of publishing because if this continues, all the authors whose income predominantly comes from ebook sales are absolutely screwed. I truly hope that the publishers will get together and address this as individual authors – even the big names – have no chance of tackling the might of Zon.
Any time an author has gone onto TikTok/BookTok or Twitter to challenge this, there’s a vicious pile-on giving the author abuse for being so entitled to think that they have a right to expect to be paid for their work – myth 2 – or the usual myth 1 suggestion that all authors are rich and can afford it.
I will just emphasise at this point that this is nothing to do with borrowing books on programmes like Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading. These are legitimate borrowing programmes where you return a book when you’ve read it. The author gets paid for the number of pages read providing it exceeds a certain percentage. These are great programmes and thank you to anyone participating. I’m talking about buying an ebook outside of these programmes, reading it (or a significant part of it) and returning it for a refund. This is stealing. The reader has consumed the product and needs to pay for it.
The returns policy should be for legitimate returns – when an ebook has been re-issued and a duplicate has been bought in error (Kindle won’t let you buy an eBook twice but if it has been re-issued by a publisher who has acquired the rights or an indie author who has their rights back, it will be a new record on Amazon although the blurb should always say it’s a re-issue) or a ‘fat-finger’ purchase where the mistake has been realised and the ebook returned without reading it.
THE CHANGING APPROACH TO BOOK REVIEWS
Trend 5 – Leaving a negative review and tagging the author in on social media
As an author, I’m realistic. I’d love for everyone to love everything I write but that’s not going to happen. Some authors avoid reading their reviews because the negative ones hurt too much. I do read all mine and I’d like to say it gets easier to take the negative ones but they still make my stomach churn and fill me with doubt about my ability as an author when I read about how much readers hate my characters/plot/writing style/me. Okay, so they don’t specifically say they hate me but some of them are so vicious that they do feel very personal.
But this isn’t about negative reviews. This is specifically about tagging authors in them. There is a growing trend of sharing a negative review on Twitter or on Instagram and either directly tagging the author into it or using a hashtag with the author’s name which they’ll find if they’re following their own hashtag in order to thank people for any kind comments.
Why? Why would someone do this? There was a really great post about this on the blog of independent bookseller Tea Leaves and Reads recently. You can read the blog post here. Author Stephen Cox summarises this growing tagging trend with this brilliant quote: “It’s generally not done because a) they’ll see it anyway and b) if you think my baby is ugly, you are entitled to your opinion. You’re not really entitled to come to my house and shout YOUR BABY IS UGLY through the letterbox”. This! This absolutely sums it up.
Like many of my characters, I try to be kind and see the best in people and I find myself feeling sorry for these individuals. What must be going on in their lives to make them feel it’s okay to tag an author into a review to tell them how crap they think the book is? Does it make them somehow feel better about something in their life if they put someone else down? I’ve been tagged in and hashtagged into negative reviews and it floored me because it comes out of the blue. When I participate in a blog tour or I look at my reviews, I’m always prepared that there may be something negative. When someone tags me, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect it to be for a positive reason. I’m not saying readers can’t express their negative views on a book. Just don’t tag the author in. Pretty please. It’s mean and there’s plenty that’s mean and unpleasant already in the world without doing that.
Trend 6 – Reviewers who tell the author how they should have written the story
All reviewers have a different approach and there is no right or wrong way to write a review. As an author, I love reading reviews where the reader shares what they particularly loved about the story, how it made them feel and whether anything personally resonates with them. Spoiler-free of course! But that doesn’t mean that’s how reviews need to be written.
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in reviews where the reader shares their opinion on what they think the characters should have done. This typically is full of spoilers too. I’m going to use a fictional example here to illustrate the point:
I really enjoyed this book but Amber wound me up. She should have told Pete about her doubts about being ready for a second baby. The indecision was ridiculous. Pete should also have been honest with Amber about being made redundant instead of trying to find a new job first because she could then have told him about her worries. Natalie shouldn’t have been so forgiving when her ex came back and revealed that he couldn’t cope with receiving his cancer diagnosis and had needed some space. If he really loved her, he’d have told her instead of disappearing for a month and they’d have worked through it together...
And so it goes on.
The thing about fiction is that (a) it’s fiction – a story made up by the author – but (b) it’s reflective of real life and in real life we all have personality quirks/flaws and occasionally make poor decisions. If the two couples in this fictional example had sat down and addressed their concerns immediately, where would the story be?What conflict would there be? The book would be a couple of chapters long and incredibly boring.
I do find myself very bewildered about this type of review because, aside from appearing to tell the author how their fictional characters should have behaved, it is full of spoilers which is not the point of a review. I understand reviewers saying that they struggle to warm to a character because of certain behaviours but this bold declaration that the behaviours were wrong is a little strange.
So there you have it. My rather long guide through some amazing developments in publishing since I became a published author seven years ago and some scary trends too which bewilder me and break my heart. I am blessed to have found some amazing readers and listeners who are so supportive of my writing, regularly engage with me, promote my work to others. I’m so very grateful to each and every one of them for their part in enabling me to continue to write full-time. But a 20% decrease in earnings is frightening and I just pray that those who are engaged in the ‘books for free’ trends think about the impact this will have on the publishing world. If a reader never pays for any books (or never borrows them from a library or legitimate subscription service through which the author gets paid), the author won’t have any money, the author won’t be able to afford to write any more books and there will be no books left to have for free.
I’m off to paint the bathroom now. It is, after all, a bank holiday weekend which means DIY doesn’t it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these trends whether you’re an author or reader. Perhaps you’ve noticed others I haven’t mentioned.
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.