The one where I’ve finished my Masters

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve just submitted my final Masters assignment. Yay!

I’ve been studying an MA in Creative Writing through Open University and it’s quite weird to think that two years of study has now finished. The course materials and accompanying activities finished a few months back, so I’ve been out of the routine of weekly studies for a while although the final submission was 15k words so it was about giving time to do that.

We don’t get the results back until early December so it’s a waiting game now. I’ve worked hard and am delighted that I’ve got a distinction so far but will need to get a distinction on my final assignment to come out with that grade overall. My other fiction pieces have scored highly so I’m hopeful.

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Have I learned loads? I’ve certainly learned but probably not loads. This wasn’t because there wasn’t lots to learn because there was absolutely loads to take in for someone new to writing. However, I’d already written seven books when I started and studied a lot about writing so most of the first year for me was cementing what I already knew. Much of the second year was about going more in-depth on that as well as exploring a few very specialist elements of writing which I’m unlikely to use. It has been useful, though. I particularly enjoyed looking at script writing which I think has helped my novel writing.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What I’ve found most valuable is the connection with a handful of writers in my tutor group. We started out with about 14 students in the group but only 7 of us have remained active. It’s been so helpful looking at and critiquing the work of others and having them give me feedback in return. I’ve been lucky enough to meet one of the group in person, another has moved into the area so we’ll hopefully meet soon, and I’m meeting a third when I’m down in London in November.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where their writing journeys go and to hopefully seeing them all secure publishing deals or publish their own work in the not-too-distant future.

And, of course, I’m looking forward to receiving my results. Watch this space.

Good luck Angie, David, Georgia, Janet, Mandy and Tracy and thank you for your feedback, support and friendship.

Jessica xx

The one where I celebrate National Teddy Bear Day

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Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.

Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…

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My Steiff Paddington – a wedding gift from hubby – and a gorgeous reading artist bear

The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!

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One of my many bear-related ornaments

News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.

A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.

IMG_6868The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.

I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.

As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.

IMG_6866As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.

I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).

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Bear Coasters

Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.

My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.

IMG_6498My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).

I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:

  • The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
  • The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
  • The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
  • The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
  • The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
  • The various others who’d damage or shoplift

Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…

I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?

When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.

In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!

IMG_6881Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.

IMG_6876My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.

Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I had the time of my life

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I was fifteen when Dirty Dancing came to the UK cinemas (October 1987). I remember a friend saying she’d seen it and loved it but I’d never heard of it and, with no social media around, I don’t remember there being much hype.

It was a few years later when I first IMG_6793saw it on video and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered with it sooner. I absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. I own the DVD, more recently replaced by the twentieth anniversary edition on Blu-ray, and also the soundtrack on CD (which is on in the background as I write this).

Yesterday, I took my daughter to see the stage version in Leeds and it was fabulous. We didn’t have the best seats as I only booked tickets a few weeks ago, but we still really enjoyed it.

We’d seen Strictly Ballroom a few years ago and it was very close to the film so I was interested in seeing how close the Dirty Dancing adaptation would be. Much of the dialogue was exactly the same, and most of the songs were there, although some were significantly shortened and a couple were instrumental rather than lyrics. I had one big disappointment here: ‘She’s Like The Wind’ was instrumental only. For me, that song is iconic to the film, especially as it is sung by Patrick Swayze, but perhaps that’s a reason why it wasn’t included. It was disappointing not to hear it, though.

IMG_6791There were new songs and new scenes. With a film I know and love so well, it’s a little weird seeing new parts.

Some certainly added value; particularly those around character development for Baby, Johnny and Baby’s parents.

Some added more to the political situation in the USA at the time. It was 1963 and a lot was changing there, particularly regarding civil rights. Part of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (which actually happened during the time the film was set) was included in a new campfire scene, culminating in the singing of ‘We Shall Overcome’. And there was more made of Neil Kellerman going on his freedom ride and his motivations around this. I personally felt that these scenes disrupted the story (sorry) and actually made Neil into a confusing character when he didn’t need to be anything more than the slightly creepy arrogant relation to Max Kellerman that he is in the film. But perhaps someone not so familiar with the film (is there such a person?) might disagree.

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Also, I didn’t understand the character of Tito Suarez. In the film, he’s the conductor for the house band and he performs a brief tap-dancing routine with Max Kellerman. Clearly, from the brief conversation they have during the finale concert, they’re very good friends too. However, in the musical, Tito’s role seems to change and he’s giving advice to Neil and Johnny but there’s no set-up of their relationship to understand why he’s suddenly the advisor, as well as a conductor and a singer. Hmm.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Mr Schumacher becoming some sort of comedy magician instead of one half of a doddery old couple stealing wallets.

These were small points, though. What a delight to hear the film’s two most iconic lines:

“I carried a watermelon”

and

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”

Absolute classics! Johnny had to pause for a very loud audience reaction after his line!

IMG_6792The sets were stunning and the many set changes were brilliantly handled. I was particularly impressed with how they achieved the scene dancing on the log over the chasm and the practice lifts in the water. As for the dancing, it was superb throughout. And that final lift? Incredible.

So, whilst I have a few niggles here and there – probably because of my love for the film exactly how it is – this really was a wonderful show and I would highly recommend anyone to go and see it. You really will have the time of your life!

And whilst Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey can never be replaced as Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman, the leads in this show were very impressive. A huge congratulations to all the cast.

And you can get a Johnny teddy bear, complete with leather jacket and sunglasses. How cute is that?

Jessica xx

 

The one where I have a very bad day

Do you ever have one of those days that start off full of excitement and high expectations, but go horribly wrong? I had one of those days today.

My 12-year-old daughter is going to a Girlguiding festival over August bank holiday weekend and the theme is ‘Disney’. I promised her I’d take her to Primark to get some cheap Disney clothes.

We drove an hour to the retail park just outside of York. She complained of a headache when we got there and then, when we were inside Primark, she said she felt sick. Primark is the opposite end of the retail park to the toilet block so it was a bit of a dash. She wasn’t sick but felt it and looked pale.

Leaving her in the seated area outside the toilets, I bought water, Calpol, and a Poundland bucket for the journey home, just in case. Just as well because she was sick on the way home. When you have a phobia about people being sick, like I do, this is a pretty traumatic incident.

Halfway home, we discovered that the main road was closed due to an accident and we had to turn back on ourselves and take a diversion. With so many vehicles on the alternative route, there were parts of the journey that were stop/start and others that were stationary. We tried a shortcut that would have bypassed the accident but were stopped by the police because the shortcut was a narrow-is country lane and they didn’t want loads of traffic using it, risking further collisions. Fair enough. We ended up having to rejoin the traffic we’d left, much further behind than we’d been before, and stuck behind a combine harvester which held us up even more.

It took nearly two hours to get home, instead of one. We finally made it home, our only purchases of the day being the water, some Calpol and a sick bucket but thank goodness for the sick bucket!

A song I absolutely hate played on the radio en route and I didn’t have the energy to try to change station. It’s a standing joke how much I hate this song and how, despite it being from the early 90s, the local radio station seem to constantly play it. When I got home, I discovered I had been wearing odd earrings. A minor point but it seemed to add to the ‘rubbishness’ of the day.

I work freelance marking HR assignments and they’d piled up while I was gone. Some of them take a lot longer to mark than others and my inbox seemed to be full of those ones so each one took an eternity to plough through. The quality was very poor and none of them passed which is always disappointing. Then my right shoulder started aching really badly, undoubtedly from hunching over the steering wheel for two hours, rigid as a board, trying to ignore my sickness phobia and then feeling tense still as I desperately tried to catch up on my work and stop my day being a complete write-off.

But then I looked up the accident online and suddenly my bad day paled into significance. My shopping trip had been a disaster, my daughter had been sick, and we’d been stuck in traffic but this was all trivial stuff because it turns out that, in that RTA, someone died.

According to the report on the York Press website (you can read it here) “a 61-year-old man from the Sheffield area, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene”. Two children in the car, aged 9 and 10, were taken to hospital, one of them by road and one by air ambulance “with injuries not believed to be life-threatening”. There are no details about how the accident happened other than that it involved the man’s car, a car transporter and an HGV. I’m not going to speculate what might have happened as that would be unfair but, if a car was up against a transporter and HGV, it’s probably a bit of a miracle that those two poor children weren’t killed too.

Given the ages, I’m guessing this might have been a grandfather out with their grandchildren. Again, the article doesn’t say. Could have been their dad, an uncle, or perhaps just a friend. Whatever the relationships, how traumatic must that have been? Those two children are at an age where they’ll likely always remember that accident, and their lives will change forever from today.

My thoughts are with the poor children and all the families involved as well as the two drivers of the other vehicles as their lives will have now changed forever too. And my thoughts with the emergency services who deal with tragic incidents like this every day. Hats off to you. I’m not sure I could do that.

I’m sure there were many fed-up and irate people stuck in the traffic today but give me two-hours of traffic any day instead of what those involved in the accident have been through and will go through going forwards. Scary stuff.

Stay safe out there.

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I met up with an old friend

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Friendships fascinate me. I’m intrigued by friendships that last a lifetime v those that are short and intense, having a big group of friends v one special person, friends who are there no matter what v fair-weather friends, and I’m particularly interested in toxic and one-sided friendships. It probably therefore isn’t a surprise that this is a big theme within my books, and the main theme of the latest release, The Secret to Happiness.

Today I spent a fabulous afternoon in the gorgeous North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby with a lifetime friend. It’s been 15 years since I last saw Graham, yet we picked up where we’d left off and barely paused for breath for five hours! It was absolutely lovely.

67671359_1082040972003609_7127664636219883520_nGraham and I were brought up in Guisborough, a market town between Middlesbrough and Whitby. We actually went to the same primary school but weren’t in the same class. I knew who he was but we weren’t friends.

This changed at senior school. We were in the same form class for our 2nd and 3rd year (year 8 and 9 in new money) and were streamed into most of our subjects together too. A friendship quickly formed, helped by us living at the same side of town and therefore being able to easily see each other outside of school. We also started walking to school – a little over two miles away – and would chat incessantly the whole way.

All of my happy memories of my school days involve Graham. I remember laughing until IMG_6745my sides screamed in pain as we tried to make cassette-recordings of conversations for our French homework. It wasn’t so much the French conversation that was funny but the decision to add in sound effects like water pouring and cutlery clinking. A three-minute conversation could take hours to record.

Laughter was such a strong feature in our friendship and I often think that I might not have been able to cope with being bullied at a school if Graham hadn’t been there to joke with and chat to about anything and everything.

Guisborough is flanked on one side by hills and forests and we’d often take off on weekends for a long walk up the forest trails, taking the Cleveland Way across the hills to Roseberry Topping; a couple of hours’ walk each way. Usually we were joined by others on our treks and I look back on those days with such fond memories. In a world before social media and only a handful of channels on TV, walking and talking was how we spent our time and it was lovely.

IMG_6755When school finished, Graham went to the local sixth form and I travelled through to Redcar to study business studies at the technical college. We both went away to university but we stayed in touch, visiting each other at uni and writing to each other (again, in the days before mobile phones, personal email addresses or social media). We stayed in touch after graduation but didn’t see much of each other over the next few years until I moved back to the north and opened my teddy bear shop. Graham was teaching in Leeds and would occasionally come through and visit me in the shop during school holidays. Despite having not seen each other for years, we always picked up where we left off.

So if the friendship was so good, why haven’t we seen each other for 15 years? It’s a good question without a good answer. I suppose life just got in the way. I got married, had a baby, changed job a few times, moved house a couple of times and never seemed to have any time or money to travel to see friends. I’d start each New Year determined that I would make more of an effort to see people, including my family, but the years just seemed to fly past. Then Graham moved to Hong Kong and has been there for the past five years. It made me really appreciate how I should have made much more of an effort to travel to Leeds when he was only a couple of hours away because Hong Kong isn’t quite so handy for a cuppa and cake!

IMG_6757But, today, we met up and it was so great to see him. As I knew we would, we just picked up where we left off. There was so much to catch up on and, of course, we had to do some reminiscing about our school days and the different people we’re still in touch with. All too soon, it was time to go but we’ve promised not to leave it so long next time. He’s back staying with his parents again at Christmas so hopefully we can meet then.

It’s scary to think that we’ve been friends for about 35 years. During that time, so many other friendships have come and gone, some of which have been upsetting to lose, some of whom I still miss. Yet my friendship with Graham has always remained and, although I’m certain it won’t be 15 years before I see him again, I know that, if it was, we’d just pick up where we left off. And that makes me very happy.

Is there someone you haven’t seen in ages? Why not get in touch and see if you can sort something out. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if you can arrange to meet up somewhere as stunning as Whitby. Look at that sky!

Jessica xx

The one where I talk about my journey to my brand new, shiny publishing deal

On Tuesday this week, I announced the thrilling news that I’d secured a 9-book publishing deal with Boldwood. I’m so excited about this but it wasn’t that long ago when I could have given up…

Warning: long post coming up but I wanted to share it for any writers who might be struggling, to show that it is worth waiting.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Towards the end of 2018 and moving into the start of 2019, I have to admit that I was feeling pretty low about my writing. For ‘pretty low’, read ‘big, fat failure’. Serious thoughts of giving up on this writing malarkey swirled around my mind frequently and I even hit the point where I struggled to find the motivation to put fingers to keyboard. Not good.

What happened? I had rejections. But I’d had rejections before and had never felt like this so what had changed?

If I look back to 2013 when I sent my debut novel, Searching for Steven, out into the world with the objective of making friends with publishers and agents, I didn’t have any major expectations. I hoped, of course, that I would secure a publishing deal but I really didn’t have a clue whether Steven was good enough or not. He was my first book-baby and I was very proud of him, I’d had some superb feedback from beta readers and a couple of really positive critiques from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, but this was publishers and agents. Would they feel the same?

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Quite a lot of them didn’t. Between September 2013 and June 2014, 12 agencies and 11 publishers said no. Actually, not all of them even took the time to say that. I’d expected to be hurt by the rejections but, instead, I viewed it as a process. Rejection? Ok, fine, knock them off the list. Who’s next?

And then I got bored.

It was taking so long to hear back and I had a book sat there ready for release with a sequel nearly written and a third in the pipeline. Why not get them out there myself? I was waiting to hear from three more publishers and, if they all said no, I was going to indie publish. Guess what? Two of them said yes! It would appear that publishing deals are like men or buses…

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Publishing deals are like buses … Image by Philipp Reiner from Pixabay 

Having two publishing offers on the table was a very happy dilemma. I could have gone for an eBook-only deal with an established USA-based publisher or with a new UK-based publisher producing eBooks and paperbacks. Oh my goodness! A paperback? What author doesn’t long to hold their book-baby in their arms and sniff it? So I chose the UK-based one.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

My publisher had great plans and lots of contacts in the publishing world. They were going to do well, weren’t they? Sadly, no. Between May 2015 and August 2016, a prequel novella was released through them, followed by the trilogy. Steven’s launch came with enthusiasm, passion and marketing support. The others were left to fend for themselves. Things clearly weren’t going well for my publisher and, after an email exchange following Daran’s release, the owner admitted that it hadn’t worked out and they would ultimately cease trading. I secured my rights back and, across late 2016 and early 2017, my husband designed new covers and we re-released them.

Being an indie author brought many positives, mainly around decision-making, but it also brought many negatives. My biggest challenge was that writing wasn’t – and still isn’t – my main job. I still have a day job and writing has always had to fit around that. To be a successful indie author, I needed to spend a lot more time promoting my work and that simply wasn’t time I had; or at least it wasn’t if I wanted to work on new material too.

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If my workload was a pile of mattresses and I was a van… Image by Luisao Pepe from Pixabay 

Charlee and the Chocolate Shop CoverOver the next couple of years, sales of the series and a new release, Bear With Me, trickled along but I had many days of zero-sales which are very disheartening. In Christmas 2017, I released two Christmas books and was quite astonished at how well they sold. I now have four Christmas books (although one of them is a sequel to Raving About Rhys) and, despite being mid-June as I write this, they’re still selling. It seems Christmas is popular all year round!

9. Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe COVERWhen I say my Christmas books were selling well, we’re not talking huge numbers. We’re not talking the sort of income that could match my day job and allow me to write full-time. We’re not talking impressive chart positions. When I started this journey, I’d have been happy for any sales, but now I wanted more and I realised that the only way I was going to be able to find a wider readership was to secure a publishing deal again. The thing was, I’d already been burnt. Could I risk lightning striking twice?

At the RNA’s July conference last year, I pitched my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, to four publishers. All were very enthusiastic and wanted to see the full MS when it was ready, but there was a mixed opinion as to where they saw the book going. Two of them wanted me to move down a more cosy romcom route with it and the other two wanted me to have a more emotionally-driven story which was what I’d intended. One of the publishers who wanted cosy asked me to send her one of my finished books so she could get a feel for my world and my writing. It wasn’t for them. I decided not to submit to the other publisher who also wanted cosy. This wasn’t a difficult decision because the two who wanted emotional were so enthusiastic, one of them appearing absolutely convinced it would be a fit. It wasn’t. They both rejected the final MS. And I didn’t take that news well.

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Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay 

When Steven received his rejections a few years back, I never shed a tear, but I cried bucket-loads each time Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was rejected. Why? I think it’s because it felt more personal this time. When I tried to secure a publishing deal for Steven, I honestly didn’t know if he was good enough. With Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, I knew I had a great story. My beta reader feedback was that it was the best thing I’d ever written and that was very much at the forefront of my mind. If Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my best work and these publishers didn’t think it was good enough, where did that leave me? Had I been kidding myself for all this time that I could actually write?

Having a support group around you is so key as an author: writing friends who understand the highs and lows as well as friends and family who aren’t connected at all and can be completely objective. My wonderful writing friend, Sharon Booth and my writing family, The Write Romantics, were there for me to encourage me to keep going. Outside of writing, my husband, Mark, and my mum have been so supportive too. They believed in me and I just needed to get that self-belief back.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Realistically, I was never really going to give up because I have stories to tell and I can’t not write them. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. So maybe that’s another reason why rejections were harder. When I wrote Searching for Steven, it was simply something I fancied having a go at. I had no thoughts of ever publishing him. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever even finish him. Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my tenth book, though, and I’d very much defined myself as a writer several books back. It felt like the publishers weren’t rejecting the book; they were rejecting me.

Objectively looking at it, there were so many positives in their comments. Every single rejection – and I received five in total for this MS and 3 rejections from the same group of publishers for one of my back-catalogue books – talked about how good my writing was, how warm my voice was, and how much they loved the setting. It’s just that the book wasn’t for them. I needed to hang onto that positive feedback and accept that the story might not speak to every editor who read it. But it would speak to someone…

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Somebody would love my work. Surely???? Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay 

I’ve always been a great believer in things happening for a reason. Those rejections, although hard, were because the right publisher for me hadn’t opened for business yet.

In January this year, I spotted an advert on Facebook for a new publisher called Boldwood who’d be open for submissions on 1st February. I’d already been stung by joining a brand new publisher but I checked out Boldwood’s website anyway, just in case. Words and phrases like “publishing reimagined” and “developing authors’ careers” and “working in partnership” leapt out at me. The credentials of the team were impressive too. They’d had proven success elsewhere; something my previous publisher had lacked.

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I sat up till midnight so that I could be the first to submit to Boldwood as soon as 1st February arrived. Then I panicked later in the day when I saw a Twitter announcement from them saying they were now open for submissions. What if my midnight submission hadn’t made it because their inbox wasn’t open for business? So I submitted again.

On Friday 15thMarch, I received the email I had longed to receive: Many thanks for submitting to us – I really enjoyed Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. What a gorgeous read! … Are you free next week at all for a phone call? 

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Somebody with much more athletic ability than me jumping for joy! Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Eek! Of course I was. We scheduled a phone call for the following Wednesday so I had a nerve-wracking few days. Surely it had to be a publishing deal if they wanted to speak to me, but what would it look like?

I never in my wildest dreams imagined the offer I received: a 5-book publishing deal but they were interested in my back catalogue too so would come back with a proposal on that. A few days later, I had the full 9-book publishing deal, with potential plans to take on the whole back catalogue depending on how things went. Oh. My. God!

So, to any writers out there who are struggling with rejections, hang on in there. Things happen for a reason and perhaps that publisher wasn’t right for you. Perhaps no publisher is right and the indie route is for you? Perhaps a hybrid approach? An agent? There are so many options available to writers these days that it might take a while to find what’s best for you and it might take several false starts, but keep believing in yourself and your writing.

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Be like this sloth and hang in there! Image by Minke Wink from Pixabay 

Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye will be released on Tuesday 3rd September under a brand new title: The Secret to Happiness. I’m honoured to be part of the team of authors at Boldwood and look forward to developing my career with them as they continue to reimagine publishing. I have a feeling it’s going to be a wonderful partnership.

What’s that saying? The best things come to those who waited. Well, I waited, and good things came!

There’s no cover image finalised just yet, but you can pre-order The Secret to Happiness on eBook here.

Jessica xx

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Good things come to those who wait! Image by Amit Karkare from Pixabay 

 

The one where I talk about what World Book Day has made me think about

It’s World Book Day today and, if you or anyone you know has primary school aged children, then your social media is probably full of pictures of them dressed as characters from books. Some will be wearing shop-bought costumes and others will be be the result of hours of labour by a parent, probably late into the evening last night, sometimes to huge success, and sometimes not quite what they (or the child) had envisaged. Oops.

World Book Day 2019

This year, the munchkin is in year 7 – senior school – so it’s the first time in years when she hasn’t needed to dress up. I’m not particularly creative when it comes to costume ideas for World Book Day. My excuse is that all my creative juices go into my books and there are none left for making fancy dress costumes. I also very much come from the “We’re not spending loads of money on this so if it’s not in your wardrobe already or can’t be created from something in your wardrobe, it’s not going to happen” school of thought. What a meany, eh?

I’ve been trying to remember what munchkin dressed as over the years and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast most days so this is no mean feat. I’m pretty sure we did a few Disney Princess years – very easy – and we had a cute ladybird costume so she became the ladybird in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. She wanted to be Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one year although she refused to have her face painted. I do remember spending quite a bit of time making a golden ticket that year but the outfit must have been something blue or purple from her wardrobe. I’m pretty certain we’ve had Hermione from the Harry Potter books too. I think. Hmm. Told you my memory was bad.

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An actual picture of my memory. Seriously

17021935_10155145412889073_267558480815859199_nOne of my favourite costumes, though, was in her penultimate year at primary school. I did my usual “We’re not spending loads…” lecture and, after some sulking, she came up with the idea herself: Mia from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, inspired by the outfit worn by Anne Hathaway in the film. We plaited her hair the night before but, other than that, the outfit took very little effort. Unfortunately she split her lunch down her dad’s silk tie and it didn’t look too happy after I tried to hand wash it clean but, seeing as he works from home and never wears shirts and ties, I decided we could live with that sacrifice.

16797661_10155145412614073_3285221170789970766_oThis year is the 22nd World Book Day and, although it is aimed at children: “World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own”, World Book Day is “celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.” These quotes, along with a stack of fabulous information and images, can be found on the official World Book Day website. It’s been lovely seeing Facebook posts from authors celebrating their achievements and I couldn’t resist knocking together a quick post of my own, courtesy of a Canva template (shown at the start of this post) and this got me thinking…

I still have many dreams I want to achieve with my writing, including earning enough to make it my main job, but the first dream was simply to finish a book and see it published. I achieved that in 2015 and it’s a good reminder to myself that, whilst sales can be disappointing, high chart positions can seem elusive, news from publishers can seem slow, and rejections can be difficult, I wrote a book. Then repeated it 9-fold. Actually 10-fold but that’s the one doing the round of publishers. And I’m halfway through my current WIP with another two books started. It’s not that long ago since I wondered if I’d ever finish one. So I’ll raise my can of Diet Pepsi to World Book Day and feel proud that I turned my love of reading into a love of writing too.

Happy World Book Day to everyone, whether a reader, writer or both. Whatever genre you read, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, whether it’s eBook, paperback, audio or a combination, keep doing it. Immerse yourself in information, meet new characters, experience different worlds and keep learning.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I have a very long rant about Amazon spoiling my Christmas

analytics-3268935_640Something really scary happened to me on Monday 14th December. At 5.19pm, completely out of the blue, I received this email from Amazon:

Hello,

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4AO78S 

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies you have used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services you have employed for promotional purposes.

Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.

If you have any questions, please email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com.

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

 

Certain key phrases leapt to me from the screen:

attempting to manipulate sales rank

sales rank will not be visible

may result in account level action

Searching for Steven NEW COVERWhat???!!!! What the heck did any of that mean?

I clicked onto the link they’d provided and it took me to my debut novel, Searching for Steven, on Amazon.com. Yes, that’s right, on Amazon.com rather than my home market of Amazon.co.uk. Weird. And even more weird is that:

  1. I had only sold ONE eBook in the USA in the past 90 days and that was nearly 2 months previously in late October. I repeat ONE copy. In 90 days
  2. I had a little over 1000 pages read in the USA in the same period. That’s the equivalent of 3 people reading the book in its entirety

There had to be a mistake, right? So I emailed the address given and nicely asked them to explain what this meant. They replied that same day with this:

 

Hello,

We do not sponsor or endorse any 3rd party marketing services. You’re welcome to promote your book through third-party websites and other services, but we encourage you to monitor the tactics they use to promote your books.  You are responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs. 

We advise against using any sites that “guarantee” a return on your investment. We support our authors’ efforts to promote their books worldwide, but at the same time, we work to prevent any manipulation of the Kindle publishing service.

If you have any questions, please email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com. 

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

Amazon.com

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Did I have questions? Oh yes. I still had all the questions I’d asked in my first email that hadn’t been answered:

  • What are you talking about?
  • Have you seen my sales figures?
  • Surely if I was manipulating sales or pages read, there’d actually be some sales or pages read?

I begged them – literally begged – to explain what was going on in words that actually made sense.

So they replied in the early hours of Tuesday and, is it just me, or does this pretty much say exactly the same thing as the others i.e. nothing that makes a shred of sense? Computer-generated jargon that has ignored all of my questions:

Hello,

We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, your sales rank will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

While we fully support the efforts of our publishers to promote their books, we take activities that jeopardize the experience of our readers and other authors seriously. Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions.  We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

You may email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com  with any questions.

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

Amazon.com

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So I wrote to them yet again – with questions – and they responded that evening with this even more aggressive email which basically told me I was STILL engaging in manipulative strategies but they refused to give me any information about this. There was no offer to get in touch with further questions. Case closed. Verdict: guilty…

Hello,

As we previously stated, we still detect reading or borrow activity for your books originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.

Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.

Regards,

Amazon.com

 

Cue another email from me begging them for some help and I received no response.

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This is what rank-stripping looks like. There’s no information below the average customer reviews

After the first email, Searching for Steven was immediately rank-stripped across all the markets in which Amazon operates, all of which offer my eBooks. What does this mean? This means all visibility of my book was lost because I was no longer featured in any Amazon charts. It didn’t mean that Searching for Steven couldn’t be found; it just meant that someone would need to specifically search for the book by title/author as it wouldn’t come up in any other sort of search. And yes, the irony of the book title and this situation is not lost on me!

So where did this leave me? Nowhere really. Amazon had made a massive administrative mistake based on some faulty algorithm yet their aggressive, threatening emails were all computer-generated and the system was clearly set up to spit out 4 barely-different emails then shut down any correspondence after the final version.

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This is the same book without the rank-stripping. As you can see, there’s information below the star ratings showing where the book is in the overall and individual charts

I turned to the closed Facebook page of the Romantic Novelists’ Association hoping that there’d been some sort of technical glitch and loads of members were in the same boat as me but it appeared I’d been singled out for Amazon’s super special Christmas gift. I am very grateful to one member, though, for pointing me to a blog run by a writer called David Gaughran who champions and supports writers and investigated several cases well over a year ago where this has happened to other writers. The emails were exactly the same but the scenarios different. In those cases, they were all participating in promotions – absolutely legitimate ones – and the spike in sales on the back of that seems to have been what generated the scary email. Not in my case. I hadn’t promoted Searching for Steven since I participated in a blog tour to celebrate his 3-year-book birthday in June last year and, as already stated, sales were pretty much non-existent. You can read his blog post here.

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David responded to a comment I posted on his blog, asking for more information, and immediately contacted Amazon on my behalf using different email addresses that should help escalate the situation. All we can do was wait. And wait. And wait.

Back in December, how had this sorry tale affected me? It was pretty horrific. On the Monday night, after the first email, I couldn’t sleep. Would you be able to if you’d been accused of a crime that you didn’t commit and the punishment was already dished out (the rank-stripping) before you had a chance to plead your case? On the Tuesday night after the final ‘we’re not giving you any info so get lost’ email, I didn’t sleep either. Or on Wednesday night. By the Thursday, completely exhausted, I couldn’t stop crying all day and I only managed to get a bit of sleep that night thanks to David stepping in and a belief that something might happen after I’d had no joy.

You might think it’s not something to cry over but, believe me, it is:

  1. I was losing sales and pages read. Granted, not many because (a) it was Christmas and I had 4 x Christmas books out there which were the main sellers at that time and (b) I had barely any sales of that book anyway, particularly in the USA, although I did have a trickle of them in the UK and a steady 500 average pages a day read in the UK. These sales were likely to  disappear, though
  2. Sadly, I do not sell many eBooks or have that many pages read so I cannot afford to lose this visibility
  3. I secured an audio deal for Searching for Steven and the Thursday of my horrible week was the release day. It should have been a happy day yet I didn’t see the point in doing any promotion of a title that could be removed at any moment and felt far too emotional to ‘celebrate’
  4. I felt like I’d been found guilty and locked up but nobody would tell me what my crime was or allow me to defend myself despite being completely innocent. I mean, let’s face it, if I was going to do something to manipulate sales, you’d think I’d actually trigger some sales. Going from zero to zero isn’t exactly yelling criminal mastermind, is it?
  5. The threat of having my books removed (this is what “account-level action” means) hung over me. Amazon have the power to do this whenever they want
  6. The emails take the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach with a bit of ‘and by the way, we don’t care if you’re innocent because our algorithms tell us you’re up to mischief so you’re black-listed for life and there will be consequences’ thrown in for good measure. I’m back in the playground at school being bullied again. Or work. Take your pick as bullies lurk everywhere
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With all this hanging over me, I couldn’t concentrate on work

This all came at the end of a dire year for me writing-wise. Sales had started to look up in late 2017/early 2018 after I released Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. From selling hardly any eBooks and having very few pages read, the Christmas books got immediate attention and, whilst sales were still very low, they were steady. Hurrah! And this had a knock-on effect on the non-Christmas books suggesting readers had enjoyed my Christmas offerings and were seeking out other titles.

Then something happened in the spring of 2018. Sales dropped through the floor and so did pages read. My income from writing – which was never particularly good anyway – plummeted and, despite bringing out 2 x Christmas books in the November, this made little impact in November although December did see some recovery (not a patch on last year, though).

I write under a pen-name and the “real” me has a Kindle. I would regularly receive emails from Amazon promoting Jessica’s books but, cninciding with this plummet in sales, these seemed to stop. I have since had one for my novella, Raving About Rhys, but none with any my Christmas books on. Something strange is happening.

Alongside the plummeting sales and lack of promo was review-gate; the much-publicised situation where Amazon went through their system over a few months and removed all of the reviews that certain readers/reviewers has placed, accusing them of creating false reviews. Some noticed, complained and had reviews reinstated. Some probably haven’t noticed. Some will have spotted it and not have the energy to fight it. I lost up to 20 reviews during that time. As a struggling indie writer, this is a massive blow, especially when they were predominantly hard-earned 5-star reviews. I completely get that there are “rogue” practices out there and there are authors who pay for reviews. It’s right for these people to be stopped … but not to the detriment of those whose reviews are honest and genuine.

Then in early October, I think it was, a very successful author threatened me with legal action. All I’ll say about the situation is that it was very upsetting, especially as I was completely innocent again. Thankfully it went away, but it left scars.

And, on top of that, I had several rejections from publishers. They’re what we call ‘positive rejections’ i.e. they love my writing, my world, my voice but the story is not for them. I got a stack of rejections when I sent Searching for Steven out into the world and none of them hurt. These ones floored me.

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It was so frustrating being told I could contact them … and getting no response

I think you can probably see why Amazon’s accusations and subsequent sanctions tipped me over the edge. As Christmas approached, I felt mentally and emotionally drained. I had never felt so low and started questioning whether any of it was worth it. As an indie writer who still works full time because the writing income is so low I can’t afford not to, I struggle to make an impact on the charts but my love for writing and the amazing reviews I get have kept me going … until last year. For a few weeks there, publishing and me are not friends. I was hoping could find my optimism over the Christmas break and rise above all the crap that 2018 presented me. Something you love doing shouldn’t be so traumatic, should it? Sadly, that didn’t work and, if I’m honest, the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company ruined my Christmas. I smiled, I laughed and I pretended everything was okay but it really wasn’t. They’d broken me.

The New Year arrived and clearly they weren’t going to respond to David’s chase email so I emailed ‘Jeff’; a general Amazon email address. I was thrilled when Jeff responded the day after (4th January 2019):

Hello Jessica, 

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.

I understand you have a question about Sales rank manipulation issue.

This issue requires input from another team. I’ve forwarded your email to them and someone will reply within 2 business days. 

Thanks for using Amazon KDP !!!

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Yes! At last! A human was going to deal with it. There was hope. So I waited two business days. I waited three. I waited several more. On 10th January, I chased Jeff again. And on 23rd. And on 30th. Jeff had obviously decided to blank me too.

So, on 4thFebruary, I emailed the 2 x addresses that David had used and tried a different tack; not forwarding the history on email in case fwd emails were getting kicked out the system.

On 7th February, they finally responded with this email:

 

Hello, 

We’ve restored the sales rank of your book and it will become available within the next 24 hours. 

Please review your account or any promotional services that you may have paid. You’re responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book(s) manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs. 

 

No apology. No explanation. No offer of compensation for the inconvenience and stress. Just a factual statement and another telling off. Seriously. And by compensation, I don’t mean money but it would have been nice for them to do some promotion for me or even offer me a Prime deal.

I should have felt relieved but I was actually really angry that day because this is not how businesses should be run yet it happens all the time. I get that I am insignificant to Amazon. My limited sales make little financial impact on my life so they’re certainly not going to make an impact on Amazon’s billions but imagine if thousands of ‘little people’ are being treated in this way, with automated threats and no explanation. How many people are feeling low and have nowhere to turn?

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I was very grumpy that day. And if I was a cat, this is how I’d have looked!

The ranks have remained in the week that has followed and I’ve had no more threatening emails but I know it could happen again any time and that’s very scary. If anyone else is in this situation, please leave a comment. If you’re struggling, I’ll give you the email addresses I finally got a reply from. If you found a better way of resolving this, please let me know in case it happens again.

That’s the end of my story. It’s not a happy ever after. It’s not happy at all but it is an end … for now.

As an independent author, I am eternally grateful that Amazon exists. It has meant I can get my books out there without a publishing deal but a company that is so enormous that it has to operate on algorithms and automated responses scares me. There surely needs to be a ‘human’ way to have contact and get mistakes rectified without putting someone through what I’ve been through.

Jessica xx

The one where I come down with a nasty condition called itsapileofpapitis

Earlier this week, my wonderful writing friend and fellow Yorkshire Rose Writer, Sharon Booth, wrote a blog post about a serious condition from which she suffers, I suffer, and many other writers also suffer: comparisonitis. It’s the feeling of inadequacy brought on by constantly comparing ourselves to other writers. You can read her honest and entertaining post here.

But this got me thinking about the other ailment from which I’m suffering really badly at the moment: itsapileofpapitis. A bit like comparisonitis, it’s a really nasty bug that can creep up on you and floor you completely. Man flu? It’s got nothing on this little beast.

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It can overcome a writer at any point but here are the three main parts of the writing process where a writer is likely to be struck down with it.

  1. The very start
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Time to bang your head against a wall!

You have this idea. This great idea. It might have come to you in the shower, in the middle of the night, when you heard an item on the news, listened to the lyrics of a song, or overheard a snippet of conversation. Ooh, exciting! The creative juices start flowing. This could be it. This could have mileage. This could be a bestseller.

And then itsapileofpapitis strikes. Out of nowhere, it punches you square on the jaw and shouts: Are you mad? That’s the most stupid idea I’ve ever heard! It’s flawed. There’s not a full story in that. Go on, write it, I dare you to waste your time…

And that’s it. The doubts have set in. You convince yourself it was a rubbish idea and either abandon it or bravely attempt to write it, but it’s like wading through treacle because those nagging doubts are there and you can’t stop listening to them.

 

  1. Somewhere mid-flow

It’s going well. You’ve got a plot, you’ve got some characters, the dialogue is flowing, the
setting is coming alive when … oh my goodness … it hits you. A hideous dose of itsapileofpapitis. You look at what you’ve written, hold your head in your hands and sigh loudly. And that little voice starts again: What a pile of pap! It’s all over the shop. Full of plot holes.Your 5-year old/the dog/next door’s guinea pig could have written something better than that. You might as well give up. Stop writing right now. Seriously, stop.

And that’s it. But this time you’re stuck. You have already invested time, effort and perhaps a few tears in creating half/a third/quarter of a book. You believed in it enough to have got this far. But do you have the courage to go further? Will you be able to work through itsapileofpapitis and come out the other side? Or will your work languish on your computer, unloved; just a series of words that nobody will ever read?

 

  1. At the very end

This is perhaps the most dangerous form of this condition and it’s the one that takes the most out of us. You’ve typed ‘The End’. You smile, you sit back in your chair, and you silently congratulate yourself. You did it! You wrote your 1st, 8th, 97thbook. Wow! That’s some achievement. You know the hard work starts now because you’re about to embark on some major proofreading and editing but, for now, relax and enjoy this moment because you have finished writing a book. Amazing.

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Is this what those voices of doubt look like?

Then the edits start and … argh! Itsapileofpapitis takes its hold with the tightest of grips and that voice of doubt pierces your very soul: You’re kidding me, right? That’s your book? That’s what you’ve spent the last 6 months/year/10 years writing? Oh. My. God! Don’t give up the day job. It’s the biggest dollop of pap I have ever read. In fact, I didn’t even make it to the end before Zzzzzz. You’re never going to publish that/try to get it published are you? Ha ha ha. That’s hilarious. Get ready for rejection / one-star reviews. You’re finished as a writer. So much for improving with age and experience.

And that’s it. Those doubts, those worries, those fears smother you and you have to ask yourself some serious questions:

Is this genuinely a dollop of pap that should never see the light of day?

Is it actually boring?

Are there seriously lots of plot holes?

Is there really no character arc?

Have I honestly created one-dimensional stereotypical characters?

OR … and this is very likely the case … am I just tired/too close to it/having an understandable and quite human meltdown?

 

So what do you do when you’re still struck down with itsapileofpapitis?

I don’t think there’s anything you can really do except keep believing in yourself. If you put your heart and soul into this and can say it really is the best you can do, then I’d say it’s just the condition getting you down and you should do your best to quieten those doubts.

lock-44463_640I never used to suffer from itsapileofpapitis. I was really proud of my first book but I think that was me being a bit naïve about what lay ahead. At that point, the fact that I’d finished writing a whole book was pretty astonishing and I was very happy with what I’d done. And it was really well received. It received great feedback on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, got two publishing deals and started to gather lots of four and five star reviews on Amazon. But that in itself opened up my susceptibility to itsapileofpapitis because, with each subsequent book, doubts started to creep in: Was it as good as Searching for Steven?

What becomes really weird the more books you release is that you want readers to say of your newest one: It’s amazing, my new favourite! Yet this then brings in the doubts again. Does that mean they didn’t really like the previous one and they were just being nice? Ha ha ha. Can’t win, eh?

 

So why am I bringing this up today?

Because I’ve come down with a bad case of itsapileofpapitis. I finished my tenth book, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, in September. At the RNA’s Conference, I received positive comments from four publishers but I decided not to submit it to one of them and it didn’t lead to anything with the others. So the doubts started which is ridiculous because I had something like 35 rejections before Searching for Stevengot two publishing deals. I have only actually had three rejections for Wish…so far but it’s still been enough to floor me with itsapileofpapitis.

I knew that I wanted to give Wish… one last read-through before indie publishing it in spring (assuming it hadn’t found a publisher home by then). On hearing that a new publisher would be looking for submissions from today, I decided to do that this week and, oh my goodness, I had three doses of itsapileofpapitis in the space of a few days:

Doubting the premise as soon as I started reading it

Doubting it was a gripping tale somewhere in the middle

Doubting it would do anywhere near as well as the others near the end

paper-3111146_640Then I read the last chapter and, even though I’ve read it so many times before, it made me smile, it made me cry, and it made me sigh in that way I sigh when I’ve reached the end of a really enjoyable book and feel satisfied with the ending. The story made me feel things.

And I reminded myself that the feedback I’d had from publishers was that it was a great story, great characters, great setting and that I could write … it just wasn’t for them.

And I reminded myself that my beta readers have unanimously said it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and they loved it (whilst trying not to question what’s wrong with my other books!)

So itsapileofpapitis can do one. I refuse to let it bring me down and I refuse to listen to it … although if I do start getting one-star reviews for it, maybe I’ll change my mind!

 

Have you ever suffered from this? I’d love to hear from you, particularly if you have ways of getting round it.

Have an amazing week. My plan is to return to a WIP I’ve been dithering with for the past few months because … you’ve guessed it … I’ve been hit with a serious case of itsapileofpapitis about it!

Jessica xx

The one where I did The Time-Warp (again!)

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I went on a road-trip to Manchester at the start of this week to see The Rocky Horror Show at the theatre. It was hubby’s sister who suggested going as The Rocky Horror Picture Show is her son’s most favourite film ever and he’d always longed to see it on stage. I’ve seen the film a couple of times and I’ve actually seen the stage show too, about 20 years ago, and I confess that I like it rather than love it … but I loved the idea of a road-trip.

So, five of us piled on a train to Manchester on Monday morning: my two sisters-in-law, my nephew and a friend of one of the SILs. When we’d all said we’d go, there was a strong declaration that we wouldn’t be getting dressed up. Definitely not. Well, not fully. Maybe a token feather boa? But definitely not anything Rocky Horror-ish. But my nephew had other ideas. Being his favourite film, he was desperate to dress as “sweet transvestite” Frank. When I heard rumours of basques, wigs and heels, I knew that the bar had been set high. Very high.

And, therefore, somehow this happened….

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The problem with dressing up is that, when you’re not exactly svelte, it’s very hard to get ready-made costumes. And, with my figure, there was no way I was going to squeeze myself into a basque and suspenders, even if I could have found one to fit. I decided to make my own costume. One of the characters, Magenta, wears a French maid’s uniform. I had a plain black skater dress and decided to sew lace round the bottom and round the sleeves and make a net skirt to go underneath it. I ordered an apron and hair-piece from Ebay and picked up a wig from a joke shop in town.

img_5873Then I ran out of time. We were getting a train first-thing on Monday morning and I spent the duration of Dancing on Ice and Vera on Sunday night trying to sew lace onto my dress and create the net underskirt. I was gutted to discover I didn’t have enough lace to go round the sleeves so that scuppered that idea.

Next, I painstakingly hand-sewed the net to a petticoat (so it wouldn’t irritate me). I’d made sure that I didn’t sew onto the elasticated waistband but I didn’t think about the fact that the petticoat itself was elasticated. When I pulled it on, I heard that sickening crack of threads snapping. Eek! I just had to hope that enough of it would stay intact or I’d be trailing several metres of bright pink net behind me like some sort of crazed bride!

img_5876So why do I like Rocky Horror rather than love it? There are many parts I do love. I love all the crazy, flamboyant, campness of it. I love the premise. I love so many of the songs. I think Richard O’Brien’s imagination is incredible. But, near the end, I personally feel it loses its way and … sorry … I think it gets a bit boring. I’m sure there will be fans (my nephew included) shouting “Nooooo!!!!!” at this but, for me, it loses the momentum. If we divide it into the two Acts of the theatrical production, the first Act is superb: innocent Janet and Brad are leaving a wedding, he proposes, they (perhaps slightly randomly but we go with it) decide to tell their old science teacher their news, get a flat tyre on the way and walk back to a mansion they’d passed to seek help. It’s all fast-paced, gives us a great sense of the two protagonists, and thrusts them into impending danger. They then meet the residents of the house, dance The Time-Warp, witness the ‘birth’ of Frank’s creation, Rocky, meet biker Eddie. Going into the start of Act 2, Brad/Janet lose their innocence. It’s still all very fast-paced, with great songs, excitement, humour and, if you’re new to it, plenty of surprises.

img_5902Then, partway through the second Act, it gets a little dull. The songs aren’t as memorable, the science teacher appears, we discover the residents of the house are aliens, and three key characters get shot. As a writer, I find myself comparing this to a book and thinking that this is that occasion where you read a book that you’re loving, then it really slows down, and you think it could have just done with one more edit to make it fantastic all the way through.

Anyway, the pace picks up again with a finale and another dance to The Time-Warp and all is forgiven for that slow moment. I’m sure many love it all but this is just my opinion.

We were treated to a fabulous cast including former Strictly pro-winner Joanne Clifton as Janet, Ben Adams from 90s boyband A1 as Brad. Apparently Duncan James of Blue has been playing Frank in half the productions but not the Manchester ones which was a shame as I’d love to have seen him in the role. Our Frank was superb, though, so we certainly didn’t lose out. I wasn’t quite so enamoured with Corrie’s Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard) as the Narrator. She seemed uncomfortable in the role, bless her. But, let’s face it, it was hard enough getting dressed up to be in the audience. How nerve-wracking must it be to be on stage, knowing that the finale involves your trousers being ripped off to reveal stockings and suspenders? Respect to her.

So it’s goodbye from me and my feather duster. And I bet you’re now singing about jumps to the left and steps to the right in your head. Sorry!

Jessica xx