The one with a lovely writing start to the New Year

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big New Year hugs
Jessica xx

The one with some really special Christmas gifts

I know I’ve just posted about New Year but I was just scrolling through my photos and realised that I took several for a blog post, then forgot to write a post, so let’s dip back to Christmas for a moment when the lights were twinkling on the tree (ok, they still are), the gifts were looking gorgeous in their wrapping, and the dog was stealing things she shouldn’t have. Oh wait, Ella does that EVERY day, not just at Christmas…

There wasn’t anything the hubby or I particularly wanted this year so we agreed to treat ourselves to a picture we’d fallen in love with on holiday in the summer and get a few bits and bobs. The hope was to get the picture framed and up on the wall for Christmas but, well, you know how it is!

I find it pretty much impossible to think of anything for him beyond the supply of socks he needs every year after putting holes in them throughout the preceding 12 months, a dark chocolate orange, and his annual Landscape Photographer of the Year book but he usually comes up trumps with a few special gifts for me and this year was no exception.

I love the ‘On Air’ sign so watch out for that in my next Facebook Live on publication day of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow (6th January). The ‘I’m a Best Selling Author’ colouring book made me laugh. It’s full of positive affirmations about my brilliance ha ha ha! The book has unusual words in it and the fluffy socks are bears. Perfect.

The hedgehogs in the next pic are mittens and they’re so gorgeous and soft. I wore them when we had our wander down to the harbour and they kept me so warm and snug. The munchkin bought me the hedgehog stress ball which I’m sure will be very useful when pondering tricky plot points.

The necklace (shown larger below) is adorable. It’s a hedgehog but its tummy is made from Whitby jet which combines my two worlds of Hedgehog Hollow and Whitsborough Bay in one necklace (as Whitsborough Bay is based on a mix of Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay). What a gorgeous idea!

The lovely hedgehog notepad above was from my friend Liz (who also sent me some delicious mint chocolates) and there’s a Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow key ring from one of the fabulous admins, Marie, at The Friendly Book Community Facebook group (who also sent me a large bar of Galaxy – nom nom). I’ll post a bigger pic of that (the key ring, not the Galaxy!) further down as it’s fabulous. It was very unexpected and extremely kind.

Hubby also bought me the latest Westlife CD (I’m a bit old school and enjoy CDs for my favourites) and a lovely starfish necklace and heart one… although I admit I picked those myself when we visited York Christmas Markets.

The face masks were sent in a care package with some tea and coffee from Fiona, one of the lovely admins in Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club – which was very kind of her and the lovely friendship heart hanger is from my good friend, Write Romantic and Boldwood Buddy Jo Bartlett.

My bestie, Sharon Booth, and I always exchange Christmas gifts and she is so much better than me at buying them. This lovely selection were so fabulous that I have to up my game next year as mine for her weren’t anywhere near as good.

I’ve added a larger picture of the wooden shop below. Isn’t it gorgeous? In All You Need is Love, part of the story is centred around a specialist teddy bear shop on Castle Street called Bear With Me. Main character Jemma and her mum make artist bears under the brand name of Ju-Sea Bears for her mum and Ju-Sea Jem bears for the smaller ones Jemma makes. The shop was inspired by my own teddy bear shop called Bear’s Pad and Ju-Sea Bears was the brand I used for the handful of bears I made.

Sharon has been building up a collection of these wooden businesses for a new series she’s working on for release next year and I’ve been admiring the photos on her Insta account but nothing quite beats seeing one up close. They’re amazing. I may need to start a Castle Street collection!

A huge thank you to everyone for these gorgeous gifts. I feel you all know me so well as these are simply perfect.

Tomorrow I will place my first entry in my ‘Happy Jar’ from Sharon. Absolutely love that idea and, as I’m celebrating a very big birthday in 4 months’ time, I hope that I have a lot to celebrate in 2022.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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

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

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

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

Thank you in no particular order to:

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

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

Big New Year hugs
Jessica xx

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

The one where Whitsborough Bay Harbour looks so pretty

On Monday night we took our dog, Ella, for a walk along Scarborough’s South Bay. The less commercial of the two bays – North Bay – is actually my favourite but South Bay has the pull of the harbour and the lighthouse and both of these look so pretty lit up at Christmas.

So I won’t witter. I’ll just show you some photos of Scarborough aka Whitsborough Bay looking all Christmassy and gorgeous. They’re not the best photos in the world – still haven’t mastered taking them on my phone despite having had the same phone for years – but it should give you a feel anyway…

Big hugs
Jessica xx

For the Whitsborough Bay fans, you see the shops/cafes/pubs all lit up? Behind that is the Old Town which is mentioned in several of my books. Seashell Cottage which appears in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series is in the Old Town and Jake from Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café lives in Lighthouse View there.

The large building above left is The Grand which is The Ramparts Hotel in my books (and very much a 5-star hotel which The Grand hasn’t been for a long time). The arcade next to it with the red lights is The Olympia which appears in my second Starfish Café book, Spring Tides at The Starfish Café (out 5th April) renamed as the Golden Galleon.

The one where Spring Tides at The Starfish Café has a cover reveal

On Christmas Eve Eve, subscribers to my newsletter were treated to an exclusive cover reveal of the second book in The Starfish Café series with a full cover reveal on Christmas Eve. (You can subscribe to my newsletter here). I’d like to say I wanted to delay my reveal on my website until after the big day as followers probably had loads on then, but the truth is I completely forgot. Oops!

So here’s the reveal of Spring Tides at The Starfish Café and the accompanying blurb (a little further down).

It’s out on 5th April and is available for pre-order on Kindle now through these links:

It will be available for pre-order for other eReaders including Apple Books but Kindle is the only provider that permits pre-orders so far in advance of the publication day. The Audible version should also go up for pre-order nearer the time and it will be available as a hardback, paperback and large print versions from publication day.

I’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has taken Hollie and Jake’s emotional story into their hearts. Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café spent much of November in the Kindle Top 100 and all of December right until Christmas Eve when it dipped out. It has also performed really well on Apple Books although there’s no way for an author to track performance like there is on Kindle.

I’ve been thrilled at all the gorgeous reviews and ratings coming in and, at the time of writing this, it’s nearly at 1,900 so will soon be celebrating a whopping milestone of 2k on Kindle.

Spring Tides at The Starfish Café picks up Hollie and Jake’s story a few months on from where Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café ends and readers will meet a new character.

Here’s the blurb:

Welcome back to the Starfish Café – where you will find stunning views, delicious food and lifelong friendships.

A new season…

As winter turns to spring, Hollie – owner of The Starfish Café – is feeling content as she settles into her new life with her loving boyfriend, Jake, and their adorable dog Pickle.

But when an unwelcome visitor threatens the future of her café, Hollie must stay strong to protect her family’s legacy…

A leap of faith

Emerging from an unhappy relationship, Tori finds herself with nowhere to stay and nobody to talk to. The long-hidden secrets of her past weigh heavily on her until a chance encounter with Finley, struggling to come to terms with his own secrets, provides an opportunity to open up.

Can she find the strength to stop hiding from her past and face up to her family? Especially when that would mean letting her guard down and learning to trust again…

A fresh start…?

Little do Hollie and Tori know that their lives are about to collide at The Starfish Café and they may be able to help each other with a fresh start. After all, with good friends in your life, nothing is impossible…

The plan is for The Starfish Café series to be a trilogy with the final part released in 2023. Each of the first two books tells a complete story with no cliffhangers so anyone reading/listening to Spring Tides at The Starfish Café at the point of publication won’t be left hanging on a cliff edge until the following year.

Thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered Spring Tides at The Starfish Café. I really appreciate that support.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where most of my books are 99p on Kindle UK TODAY ONLY

Hello and welcome to Boxing Day. How was Christmas Day? If you were celebrating, I hope you had a fabulous time.

I’m really excited today as seven of my books are on a very special offer on Kindle UK. It’s known as a ‘gold box’ and is only available on a Sunday for eBooks. To be eligible for a gold box offer, an author must have at least six books with the same publisher and they need to have been retailing at £2.99 for at least two months before the 99p gold box deal is secured so that readers are genuinely getting a good offer.

You can usually spot which author has a gold box deal because, late on Sunday afternoon and into Monday morning, those books are usually doing very well near the top of the Kindle charts. This is because they’re featured in the Kindle newsletter and on the daily deals pages and heavily marketed by Amazon themselves.

Yesterday, there was a special Christmas day gold box on the Cadfael series of books by Ellis Peters. At one point yesterday evening, I spotted a whopping 19 of the 21 books in the Top 50. Wow! That’s serious chart domination! They’re still riding high this morning as I’m writing this although they’re back up to the £3.99 price now so they’ll drop position later. There’s always a lag in the sales figures having an impact on the chart.

Unusually, today’s gold box is a joint Boldwood Books one with Jennifer Bohnet who has four of her titles in the deal alongside my seven and it looks like another Boldwood author, Rosie Clarke, has a daily deal with Stormy Days on Mulberry Lane.

My gold box books are:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 1)
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 3)
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 4)
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
  • Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (Hedgehog Hollow book 1)
  • New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow (Hedgehog Hollow book 2)
  • Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow (Hedgehog Hollow book 3)

We’re not really sure why book 2 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – wasn’t selected alongside the rest of the books in the series but it’s less than £6 for the full four-book series, even paying full price for that title, which is still a great deal.

With book 4 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – out on 6th January, this is the perfect time to catch up with the three books in the series so far but only pay the price at which one book usually retails. Even though each book in this series is a complete story, it’s a far richer reading experience starting from the beginning and watching the characters develop across the series.

All my Christmas/seasonal books are on a 99p offer at the moment too, although not part of the gold box deal. These will probably stay at 99p until at least the end of December but the gold box is ONE DAY ONLY. There is a slight possibility that Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café may stay at 99p a little longer as Amazon had been price-matching that to an Apple Books offer but I wouldn’t take that chance:

  • Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café
  • Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

So you can pick up a whopping TEN of my books on Kindle UK for only 99p each today – £9.90 total.

For another £7.77, you could add in the three books that aren’t on offer just now – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, All You Need is Love and The Secret to Happiness meaning you’d have the entire Whitsborough Bay collection and Hedgehog Hollow series released so far – 13 books – for £17.67, averaging £1.35 each. SUPER BARGAIN!

You can get to my Amazon UK author page here where you’ll be able to find all my books.

I’ve seen so many of these gold box deals secure astonishing chart positions, albeit for a brief window of time, and I’m trying not to get too excited about the idea of seven books in the Top 50 together or even Top 20 success. My absolute dream would be a book in the Top 10 in the UK. I’ve managed that in Canada and Australia but #14 is the highest I’ve had in the UK Kindle charts with Seaside Blooms when it was on a Prime Deal last year. None of the other books in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series have been in the Top 100 so it would be amazing if they got there.

I’d be ever so grateful if you could share the news if you’re UK-based or have friends/family in the UK who might like to take advantage of this offer. Wishing Rosie Clarke all the best with her daily deal and Jennifer Bohnet every success with her four gold box books. Go Boldwood!

Big gold hugs
Jessica xx

The one with a special offer for Yeokens collectors

If you’re a fan of Yeo Valley’s products, you may already be a collector of Yeokens. There’s a special code on every Yeo Valley pack and those who register for the programme can enter the codes online and build up their Yeokens balance which can then be exchanged for discounts, goodies, days out or charitable donations. You can read more about Yeokens on Yeo Valley’s website here.

In an industry first, the brilliantly innovative Boldwood Books have partnered with Yeo Valley to offer discounted audiobooks in exchange for Yeokens.

There are six Boldwood titles currently on offer in a range of genres from Heather Atkinson, Rosie Clarke, Shari Low, Helen McGinn, Louise Douglas and me! I’m thrilled that Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is one of them.

As you can see from the promo visual, 75 Yeokens gives 75% off a selected Boldwood audiobook which is a fabulous discount.

So, if you’re a Yeokens collector and have some spare Yeokens, here’s a great way to ‘spend’ them.

Happy listening!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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

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

AUDIOBOOK OFFERS

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

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

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

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

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

MILESTONES

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

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

A TRIP TO WHITBY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Christmassy hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I visited Nunnington Hall

Those who follow me on Instagram will already have seen a few photos but I wanted to share them here. Last Friday, I met up with author Eliza J Scott for a wander around Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire. It’s not too far from the pretty market town of Helmsley and was a good meet-up location for both of us.

Eliza has visited before but I haven’t. It’s owned by the National Trust and you can find more details about it on their website here. The friendly guide in the entrance hall advised us that it is constructed of three different parts added over 450 years and was actually lived in as recently as the 1970s.

I’ve developed a love for visiting grand properties dressed for Christmas. There’s something extra special about seeing them dressed with wreaths and swags and trees, all gently lit by fairy lights.

Nunnington Hall didn’t disappoint with it’s first impressions. Isn’t it lovely? And that entrance is so inviting.

The grand hall had the most amazing fire blazing in it – perfect for a chilly day – but the lovely guide was standing by it so I don’t have a picture of it. I do have a picture of the lovely Christmas tree, though. Look at all those lovely gifts!

The rooms were dressed in different themes. If I’ve remembered this correctly a week on, it was Victorian, Georgian, 1950s and 1980s although I’m not 100% sure which was the Victorian v Georgian (or was it Edwardian). Don’t think I’ll secure a job there as a tour guide!

The low winter sun was streaming through the windows so it was tricky to get pictures but hopefully you’ll be able to get a feel for the feast set up. The costumes were really interesting as I’d always known that people were shorter back then but I stood next to the dress and the mannequin was much shorter than me and I’m only 5′ 2″!

In one of the bedrooms, there was the most delightful scene. The children from a local primary school had made Christmas trees from paper cones and there were fairy lights weaved between them and moving lights projected onto the ceiling. You really can’t get the feel from my photos but, believe me, it was beautiful.

One of the things I really love seeing when I visit stately homes are writing desks and I can never resist taking a photo of one and wondering if I’d have written books at such a desk if I’d lived in that era.

There was a lovely children’s bedroom. Look at those teddy bears. Awww!

I didn’t take photos of the 1980s living room but it was fun seeing the sorts of childhood toys I remembered like Sindys and the various games popular in that era. The Christmas tree was decked out with tinsel and baubles that reminded me of growing up too and there was a buffet table with some 1980s classic foods. Memories!

I enjoyed the 1950s bedroom and all the lovely gifts.

There were some art and craft exhibitions displayed in some rooms and I was in awe of how creative some people are.

When we’d finished our tour round the house, we retired to the tearooms and had the most delicious warm turkey & stuffing bap. It was served with rocket and homemade coleslaw and, tell you what, I’m still craving it a week later. It was absolutely delicious. And I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate and a piece of Victoria sponge too, although I completely forgot to take photos in my eagerness to eat!

We walked off our lunch in the gardens where there was a different view of the house in the late afternoon sunshine.

There were some activities for children set up and I couldn’t resist taking this photo of an adorable hedgehog illustration on one of them. I was also fascinated to spot one of the groundskeepers cutting down mistletoe from one of the trees. I’ve actually never seen mistletoe growing in the wild myself and the trees were covered in it. I took a photo but it hasn’t come out that well. You can just make out the clumps top right, bottom left and in the middle.

All too soon, it was time to leave but, on the way out, we spotted some more activities and couldn’t resist a go on the welly wanging! With a throw of a pair of wellington boots, I managed to knock over all the skittles which was pretty surprising considering I’ve never done that before. Eliza managed all but one so we both uncovered an unexpected ‘talent’. Who knew?!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I travelled to Narnia

When I was little, one of my favourite books was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I read it stacks of times and was completely captivated by the idea of four evacuees entering the land of Narnia through a wardrobe. So magical! I was therefore very excited that this year’s theme for Christmas at Castle Howard was ‘Christmas in Narnia.’

Each year, Castle Howard – a gorgeous stately home between Scarborough and York – is dressed for Christmas and it’s seriously impressive.

Castle Howard in the summer

In 2019, when we had no idea that a global pandemic was about to change the world beyond recognition, I visited with my bestie and fellow author Sharon Booth. The theme was ‘Masquerade’ and you can read about it/see my photos in a blog post I wrote at the time here. On the back of that, I knew Narnia would be pretty special.

Castle Howard last night

We were originally booked to go to ‘Christmas in Narnia’ a few Saturdays back but Storm Arwen hit and Castle Howard made the decision to close for safety. There are so many trees in the grounds that there was too great a risk with the high winds. Worried that we couldn’t go, I panicked and re-booked pretty much the only slots available – an after-school visit last night – but received an email later saying to bear with them as they would be squeezing in some extra slots for those who’d had theirs cancelled so we could probably have done a weekend after all.

The imagination and attention to detail that goes into creating these Christmas themes is quite astonishing. There’s actually a Channel 4 series running at the moment called ‘Christmas at…’ which documents how various stately homes transform for Christmas. It started with the ‘real Downton Abbey’ – Highclere Castle, then Warwick Castle and, spookily enough, Castle Howard was aired last night. My in-laws mentioned this when we collected the dog from theirs … and I promptly forgot. I need to watch it on catch-up.

Visitors need to book and there are 15-minute time slots to keep a steady flow moving through the house. Some whizz through and others pause to take in all the detail and there are no staff moving you on; the flow happens naturally.

Four of the bedrooms were dressed for each of the four siblings, Susan, Lucy, Edmund and Peter. Susan’s room was clamorous, Lucy’s full of toys, Edmund’s as a ‘war camp’ and Peter’s grand and representing courage.

Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom aka Susan’s Room
Lady Georgiana’s Dressing Room aka Lucy’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Dressing Room aka Edmund’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Bedroom aka Peter’s Room

I absolutely loved the move down the old passageways with all the snowy-looking flowers, candles and lights.

Antique Passage through Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

Then we reached the wardrobe of fur coats through which Lucy first enters Narnia, and the lamppost where she meets Mr Tumnus. Note the fawn’s red scarf tied around it – lovely detail – and his packages on the ground.

We soon arrived in the Great Hall with the most enormous Christmas tree – 28 feet high – which is frozen in time awaiting Christmas returning to Narnia. Wouldn’t have liked the job of dressing that!

As we passed through the Great Hall, we reached the Garden Hall where the White Witch is on her sleigh and there’s a box of Turkish Delight waiting to tempt Edmund.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Music Room was an imagining of Mr Tumnus’s home where Lucy enjoys tea with the fawn. There was so much to look at here and I loved the detail of the undecorated trees symbolising the forest coming into his home (although they’re not in my photo).

The next room had even more detail. The Crimson Dining Room showed the woodland animals celebrating as they sensed victory for good over evil. There were animals everywhere and toadstools under the table. Absolutely gorgeous.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Museum Room becomes the Professor’s study

When we visited the Masquerade decorations, the Long Gallery was packed full of figures and bridges and a ‘river’ but it was more understated this time with the colours of the Northern Lights now that Aslan is back and triumphant. Before we meet the great lion himself…

(photo credit Mark Heslington)
(photo credit Mark Heslington)
Christmas has returned to Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

In the courtyard near the visitor’s entrance, there was a fire pit. Hubby had a coffee and the munchkin and I had a couple of giant marshmallows to toast. They were absolutely amazing.

I really enjoyed our evening. I’d loved to have lingered in some of the rooms for even longer to catch all the detail and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year as the two times I’ve attended have been brilliant.

Hope you enjoyed the pics as much as I enjoyed my marshmallow!

Big lion hugs
Jessica xx