The one where I recall a Valentine’s Day mystery

Happy Valentine’s Day. I said this to my 15-year-old daughter this morning and was met with a muttered response of ‘But I’m single’. I can completely understand why she said that because it would have been my reaction too when I was 15 and for a long time afterwards.

I used to dread Valentine’s Day. I never had a boyfriend at school. Too fat apparently. Gosh, I wish I was still ‘enormously fat’ aka size 12-14 now! We digress…

At college, I had two extremely short-term boyfriends – we’re talking only a couple of dates here – but one of those did coincide with Valentine’s Day. He was a friend of a friend. He fancied her, she didn’t fancy him, I met him and told her that I thought he was quite sweet, and somehow we ended up on a date. Cue absolute torture about the type of card to buy for someone I’d only recently met. Cue even greater discomfort when he presented me with a soft toy gift that my friend had previously told me he’d planned to give to her. Perhaps explains why it didn’t last long.

The university years were a little different. In my first year, I had a boyfriend. For both of us, it was our first serious relationship and he made a big fuss about Valentine’s Day, presenting a card and gifts at midnight. I was therefore a little surprised later in the day when I nipped out of my room in our halls of residence to make a cuppa and returned to find another card and gift on my bed. Not from the boyfriend. The lad living in the room next door to me had decided to use Valentine’s Day to tell me how he felt about me. He knew how serious things were between the boyfriend and me because he was part of our friendship group. Eek! Hadn’t seen that one coming. The friendship between him and the boyfriend was a little strained from that point.

In my final year at university, I was stunned to find a whopping four Valentine’s cards in my halls pigeon hole. I’d been expecting one from my female bestie in the room next door. Both single, we’d decided to exchange cards to celebrate friendship which was lovely. The other three were a big surprise. My bestie had a surprise card too and a male friend who lived on our floor in our halls of residence admitted to sending us one each, also celebrating friendship. What a star. My third card was a fun one, tracked down to a lad I’d had a bit of an on/off flirty thing going with but the fourth was a mystery which I was determined to solve.

My mystery card had these words in it: Why is it girl that when the world is lit by lightning that I keep telling you that I love you? It sounded to me like a song lyric but I couldn’t place it. These days, this would have been resolved in seconds by a trip to Google but this was 1994 and the tech didn’t exist.

My friends all agreed that it sounded like lyrics. A few thought the words were familiar but couldn’t get to the next part of the song. Most didn’t recognise them at all and it was driving me mad.

The sun went down on Valentine’s Day came, the mystery card-sender hadn’t revealed themselves and I was annoyed that I couldn’t place those lyrics. There was one person I thought might have sent the card. His name was Pete, he was a first year, and we’d seen each other for about a week the previous term but it had fizzled out as quickly as it started. We were still friends so I asked him if he’d sent it. He wanted to know why I thought that but I couldn’t come up with a reason and he refused to confirm or decline unless I gave one. The mystery continued.

The lyrics constantly played in my mind and I began to wonder if it was a Deacon Blue song. I adored Deacon Blue and had their brilliant 1987 album ‘Raintown’ and more recent 1993 album ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ in my CD collection at the time. I knew all the tracks on both really well and it wasn’t from either of them although I had to have a proper listen to both again to make sure.

So the mission then became tracking down someone who had the two Deacon Blue albums I was missing in their collection: ‘When the World Knows Your Name’ (1989) or ‘Fellow Hoodlums’ (1991). And that’s when I came up trumps. I was right about it being a Deacon Blue lyric, from a song called ‘When the World is Lit by Lightning’ on their 1989 album. The song hadn’t actually been released as a single so no wonder I’d struggled and several friends hadn’t recognised it at all.

Yay! I’d finally confirmed my suspicions that it was a song and now I knew which song. And it didn’t help me one iota. I’d assumed that identifying the song would give me a clue about my mystery sender but it didn’t. So I confronted Pete again on a night out with friends and he said the same as before: Why do you think it’s from me?

I’d love to say I worked it out for myself but Pete could obviously tell I was never going to get there and decided to put me out of my misery. Yes, it had been him, and he was disappointed I hadn’t worked out why. When he told me the logic, I was disappointed in me too.

When we’d started seeing each other, we’d had a conversation about his name – Peter Deacon – and he’d told me he’d always imagined that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s Day card, he’d write a Deacon Blue lyric in it as a clue to who it was from because of the connection to his name. It wasn’t just his surname Deacon that had a connection to the name of the band. With the first name of Peter, there was a connection to ‘blue’ through the children’s TV programme Blue Peter. Blue Peter / Deacon Blue. Genius. I felt so awful because I’d genuinely forgotten that conversation although, once he reminded me, I did recall it. To this day, I have no idea whether he sent the card for a bit of fun, perhaps intentionally to create a mystery, or if he was hoping it might trigger us trying again. If it was the latter, I messed it up by forgetting an important conversation.

I never felt the same way about Valentine’s Day after that. I felt like I’d hurt someone who I cared about and that made me uncomfortable. I thought about how much tension the incident in my first year had caused when my next door neighbour shared his feelings for me and how awkward that moment in college was when my new boyfriend gave me the gift intended for my friend. I’d always thought that Valentine’s Day was uncomfortable when single and card-less but it struck me that Valentine’s Day could be just as uncomfortable when in a relationship or when cards came and the sender was unknown. I also realised that what had made me the happiest were the two friendship cards I’d received and that’s how I see Valentine’s Day these days – a celebration of love and friendship in all its forms.

Last year, I was asked to write a piece for a national newspaper group about why I loved Valentine’s Day and I had to laugh at the assumption that, just because I was a romance author, of course I’d love it. So I wrote about the celebration of friendship instead and gave some suggestions for how those who were single or in a struggling relationship could embrace their friendships, love for family members, their pets and, very importantly, enjoy a little self-care.

I’ll be celebrating my 17th wedding anniversary in September and my 19th anniversary since meeting my husband in July. In all that time, we’ve never been out for Valentine’s Day but we always exchange a card and sometimes he gives me flowers of a fun gift. This year we couldn’t go out even if we’d wanted to as I tested positive for COVID earlier in the week and he tested positive yesterday so we’re both isolating. Fortunately we’d been organised this year. I’d got him a card a couple of weeks ago and he’d spotted this little fella on the supermarket shelves. Isn’t he just the most adorable and absolutely perfect for me?

Whether you’re loved up, single or somewhere in-between, Happy Valentine’s Day to you. Wishing you a day filled with love from a partner, friends, family, pets, your favourite teddy, a bar of chocolate, a film or a book.

Ooh, and if you’re looking for a warm hug of a book, I have 14 in my collection out now which I can highly recommend! For those who know my writing, you’ll know what a strong emphasis I place on the importance of family, friends and community in my books. There’s always a romance story but the other threads are just as important and I’ve often wondered whether my early experiences of Valentine’s Day and my fairly disastrous love life until I met my husband (when I was 31) have influenced my desire to write about so much more than romantic love. I think they have. In my mind, love is all around (as the song says!) and it really doesn’t have to be of the romantic variety.

Big Valentine’s hugs
Jessica xx

Ten to Talk Through with Jessica Redland

Sharing an interview I had with Aoife on the Pretty Purple Polka Dots blog, exploring where my inspiration comes from, what I think of NaNoWriMo and a whole pile more 🙂

Pretty Purple Polka Dots

February is the perfect time to celebrate love and romance authors. Jessica Redland is one of my favourite contemporary romace authors in the UK at the moment, and I adore her cute and cosy romance fiction. Most of her books, including her most recent one A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow, are set in Yorkshire.

Jessica and I sat together to talk about what inspired each of her books and why we have NaNoWriMo to thank for them at all.

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The one where the hedgehogs exceed 10,000 reviews/ratings on Amazon

A couple of days ago on 2nd February, I was delighted to see the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – pass the 1,000 reviews/ratings milestone on Amazon. This was on the four-week anniversary of release, less than a month after publication (it came out on 6th January).

It hasn’t gathered reviews quite as quickly as book 3 – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – which hit this milestone on its three-week anniversary but four weeks is still amazing! Go hedgehogs!

The other three books all hit special milestones this year and, added together, they have exceeded 10,000. I know I’ve said it before but this is so astonishing because I spent five years dreaming of just one of my books reaching 100 reviews and it shows how much has changed since Boldwood Books took a chance on me.

The hedgehogs and I are so very grateful to Boldwood, to my amazing editor Nia who works her magic during the editing process, and to everyone who has left a rating or review. THANK YOU!

The 10,000 is just on Amazon. I’ve had a quick look on Audible where the series so far has gathered well over 2,000 reviews and Apple Books where there are 667. Lots of love around for those hedgehogs.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where it is an enormous big news day – loads to tell you

Today has been a big news day. Enormously big news! So let’s crack on.

AWARD NOMINATION

A few weeks ago, I was in bed reading when a text came through shortly before 10pm from my fabulous editor, Nia, saying “You need to check your email!” So I did and it was to the amazing news that Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café had been shortlisted for the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year Awards in the Christmas / Festive Romance category.

You know the phrase 3rd time lucky? Well this was 3rd time lucky for me with Boldwood Books but actually 7th time lucky overall as I’d submitted four of my indie titles before joining Boldwood. Keeping the faith pays off!

I’m thrilled that fellow Boldwood authors Shari Low and Portia MacIntosh have also been shortlisted in the contemporary and romantic comedy categories respectively. I believe this is a second time for each of them since joining Boldwood so fingers crossed for the win.

Also, congratulations to AnneMarie Brear. AnneMarie is a Boldwood author but only joined us recently and she’s therefore shortlisted for one of her indie titles (as these are all for books released during 2021).

And of course congratulations to all the finalists. You can read the full announcement and list here.

Finalists are asked to keep the news under wraps until the big announcement so I’m delighted it is now out in the open. I’ve had so many amazing comments on social media and really appreciate all the support.

The Awards ceremony is in London on 7th March so I’m looking forward to a trip down to the capital and, because I’m going that far, I’ve arranged to meet with a good friend from my university days on the Sunday evening. Last time I saw him, I was down in London for an RNA event and Boldwood had just launched so we have a lot to catch up on!

Which brings me to my next piece of news…

BOLDWOOD BOOKS’ 3RD ANNIVERSARY

Boldwood are celebrating 3 years today since their initial launch. I remember sitting up until midnight on 31st January 2019 so that I could send my manuscript – The Secret to Happiness – in as soon as February arrived. Then I panicked that they might not actually receive submissions until the working day officially started so I sent it again!

I was thrilled to be invited in late March that year to be one of their first twenty authors and it’s been the most phenomenal three years so far. Here’s to the next three!

To celebrate their astonishing growth to about 70 authors, nearly 6m sales, hundreds of bestsellers and thousands of amazing reviews, they’re running a competition to win a Kindle. This is over on their Book and Tonic Facebook page or you can find it on Twitter by following @BoldwoodBooks

The T&Cs are here. Good luck!

Wishing Amanda, Nia, Claire, Megan, Caroline, Sarah, Emily, Tara and Laura and all the amazing authors at Boldwood a very happy 3rd anniversary.

And for my final piece of big news today, I return to the RNA…

RNA LEARNING COURSE LAUNCHED

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be running an RNA Learning Course across March all about how to write a novel or series set in a country or coastal setting because, well, that’s what I know quite a bit about!

Before I became a full-time author, I worked in HR and specialised in recruitment and training. I’ve therefore run training workshops, designed materials and even trained trainers for nearly three decades so was delighted at the opportunity to put some of those skills into use again.

This course runs flexibly online where students can access materials from 1st March up until midnight on 31st March and therefore work at their own pace within that month. There will be specific times within that where I will provide live input and support.

The session will suit anyone who is writing or thinking about writing in these settings and the great news is you don’t have to be a member of the RNA member to participate, although the price is more for non-members.

To find out more, please click here. This is also where you can sign-up if you think it’s for you.

I’m really looking forward to running this course and sharing my knowledge and experiences as well as those of other authors who write in these settings who have kindly shared their thoughts with me.

My February is going to be jam-packed as I need to pull together the training materials, finish writing Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow which is currently only one-third written, and I have a gig and a holiday this month too. Who needs sleep?

By the way, Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café is still only 99p for all eBook formats so there’s still the opportunity to grab yourself a bargain (or free in Kindle Unlimited).

Wishing you a fabulous February.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the Whitsborough Bay tour round Scarborough’s North Bay

We made a decision to aim for one family day out each weekend but couldn’t go very far this weekend just gone. The munchkin was on a Duke of Edinburgh practise walk from one end to the other of Scarborough’s sea front (about 4 miles) on Saturday afternoon and we were expecting a plumber to quote for some work on Sunday.

As we needed to pick the munchkin up at the end of her walk, we decided to go early and have a wander round North Bay. It was a very cold and windy day – preparing for Storm Malik – and I took quite a few pics to show different parts of North Bay from my books.

STANLEY MOFFATT

Freddie Gilroy is an oversized statue of a former soldier who sits on his giant bench overlooking the sea at South Bay. You can read more about who he is and the story of the statue on this Wiki page.

He’s so iconic that he had to feature in my Whitsborough Bay stories but, as Whitsborough Bay is fictional, I needed to change his identity.

In my stories, he’s Stanley Moffatt, a fisherman who was saved by the RNLI. He’s first mentioned in The Secret to Happiness and features in Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café and the forthcoming Spring Tides at The Starfish Café.

As you can see, Freddie’s (or Stanley’s) bench looks a bit wet. It hadn’t been raining. This was from the earlier overtopping caused by the high tide and the wind so I took these photos very quickly while keeping an eye on the sea just in case.

You see the buildings on the top of the cliff? That’s where Danniella rents her flat from Aidan in The Secret to Happiness, although her flat would be a smidge further round off camera.

THE SEA

The dangers of dodging waves is one of the themes I explore in The Starfish Café series. In Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, I talk about bollards being put up on the slipway after several tragedies. Although the details have been changed slightly on one of these, it is based on a true story from 2005 which resulted in the slipway near Freddie being permanently closed. Signs remind the public of the dangers of the sea yet people still take chances.

When we were down on the seafront on Saturday, it was a couple of hours after high tide. There were a few high waves and some spray but we stayed well back because we’re not daft.

The photo above shows the slipway that is permanently closed. Without giving spoilers, this is where an incident in Jake’s childhood occurs in Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café.

THE BEACH HUTS

Scarborough’s North Bay beach huts are gorgeous. Painted lime green, sky blue, red, orange and yellow, I decided not to change any aspect of them and they appear in my books exactly as they appear on North Bay.

They feature in loads of my books. In The Secret to Happiness, Karen’s bootcamp often takes place on the promenade in front of the huts which was inspired by my own experiences of doing two different bootcamps at 6am three mornings a week for a few years. Couldn’t do that now!

Clare walks along here on a visit to Whitsborough Bay in Coming Home to Seashell Cottage and they feature a few times in All You Need Is Love. And I’m sure you can see why.

SEA RESCUE SANCTUARY

Although I haven’t set a story there (yet), I do mention the Sea Rescue Sanctuary in several books, especially The Starfish Café series. In Scarborough, it’s really the Sealife Centre and it’s the pyramid shaped building in the background here (which I’ve changed to domes in my books).

HEARNSHAW PARK

Near Scarborough’s North Bay is the fabulous Peasholm Park, re-named as Hearnshaw Park in my books. Again, it features in several stories, perhaps most notably in Making Wishes at Bay View when Callie walks round the lake with Ruby and discovers the secrets from Ruby’s past.

Dusk was approaching so the pics aren’t the best as it wasn’t quite bright enough to pick out the colour but not quite dark enough to pick out the illuminations. But here you go…

Hope you enjoyed your little tour round Whitsborough Bay.

It’s February tomorrow – how did that happen?! Wishing you an amazing second month of the year.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we travelled up the coast to Redcar and Saltburn

I’m a bit of a workaholic and, as my job is also my hobby, I do have a tendency to work 7 days a week including evenings although, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this time at my desk isn’t always spent productively. I’ve pretty much perfected the art of procrastination!

Anyway, in an effort to break the constantly working thing, we’re trying to have one day each weekend where we go out as a family. A week ago we had a lovely visit to Sandsend and Whitby and on Sunday we decided to venture a little further up the coast to Saltburn.

Saltburn – or to give it its full name Saltburn-by-the-sea – is fifty miles from Scarborough but we’re talking slow coastal roads to get there so over an hour’s drive. It’s still in North Yorkshire but within the borough of Redcar and Cleveland and it’s very close to where I was raised. I was born in Middlesbrough but lived in the market town of Guisborough from when I was was three until I officially left home for my first job after graduating university. None of my family live in Guisborough anymore so it’s not an area we usually visit.

Guisborough is only five miles from Saltburn so we’d sometimes visit the beach there when I was younger and, when I was at college, I occasionally frequented a club there called Philmores which was the place to go if you wanted to get in under-age! It closed in the 1990s and is now a hotel.

As we neared Saltburn, I mentioned that I was curious to visit Redcar which is another six miles or so further up the coast. A similar distance from Guisborough as Saltburn, Redcar was where I went to college. I didn’t fancy doing A levels at the local sixth form, choosing instead to study a BTEC in Business & Finance at Redcar’s technical college (Cleveland Tech). I left college in 1990 and visited a few times in the years that followed as I had a couple of friends who lived there but it has to be at least twenty-five years since I last went and quite possibly more.

It was a particularly cold and grey morning when we arrived in Redcar and we parked at the far end in Coatham where the natural beauty of the beach and sand dunes sit alongside the man-made – Teesside Wind Farm with container ships passing by, and British Steel. The munchkin was not impressed with the industrial setting but hubby and I find the views quite fascinating, especially when the sun made an appearance on our return walk.

While we differed in opinion on whether the view was horrendous or interesting, we were all in agreement that one addition since I last visited Redcar wasn’t the prettiest. My photos really don’t do it justice because they’re too dark but if you click on the Redcar link earlier, you can see the ‘Redcar Beacon’ in glorious purple and golden-yellow colour.

At seven floors and 80ft high, this attraction was built in 2013 and provides panoramic views of Redcar. It looks like a helter-skelter wrapped round an old tower block. To me, it was reminiscent of a mini version of the 1960s built round tower block I lived in at Loughborough University! I wasn’t aware of its existence until Sunday but hubby seemed to think it had come under tremendous criticism.

I’ve just had a quick look on TripAdvisor and didn’t need to scroll through the reviews as the low-rating conveyed the strong opinion, as did this 1-star rating: “This structure is an abomination, a giant carbuncle on a seafront that has enough already. Whoever approved it’s construction was either insane or the recipient of a bung”. Hmm! I’m sure the views are fabulous.

When I was at college in Redcar, there were four of us who’d hang around together. At dinner time, we wandered into town and ate our packed lunches in some old wooden shelters on the seafront, regardless of the weather. Brr! Sometimes we’d grab a drink or snack in Woolworths or M&S as we cut through them to get to the front. Woolworths has long gone and M&S is also no more. It was weird seeing the back of the buildings as one of the buildings hadn’t changed at all since my college days of 1986-88, but I couldn’t decide if it had been Woolworths or M&S. I can barely remember what I did from day to day so thinking back thirty-four years is a stretch too far!

The seafront has changed with fresh paving, new shelters and some artwork. I didn’t think to take any photos although I don’t have any from my college days to compare them to as those were the days before mobile phones so we didn’t tend to take snaps.

Redcar town centre was pretty much unrecognisable. Like most town centres these days, there were lots of empty shops, but there were quite a few people around. I nipped into The Works. My brother had posted a photo a couple of weeks earlier of the shelves in the Redcar branch after my nieces rearranged them but there was only one copy of New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow left which was lovely to see.

We walked back along the beach and took a drive via Markse-by-the-sea and onto our original destination of Saltburn. The sun which had made a brief appearance in Redcar had gone so I’m afraid the photos are a bit dull and grey. It was late afternoon so it was only a brief visit and wander along the cliff top.

Whenever I think of Saltburn from childhood, I think of the extremely windy road to get down to the beach and the pier. I love piers. Opened in 1869, it’s 450m long and is the most northerly pier still in Britain today, which I hadn’t realised.

The funicular wasn’t in operation, being out of season, so we didn’t get a chance to ride on that. We decided not to wander down to the pier as we needed to get something for tea before the shops closed, but hopefully we’ll go back another day to have more of a wander.

I tried to get a selfie of me with the funicular and pier behind me but I still haven’t perfected the art of the selfie. My head just doesn’t work with the angle and I always look cross-eyed but here you go…

The munchkin is brilliant at doing selfies but I think that’s a generational thing. It’s like they were born instinctively knowing how to do it!

Hope you enjoyed my pics from a little further up the coast. It was good to visit Redcar again after all these years but strange to see how much had changed/how little I recognised. Hopefully we’ll have another trip out this coming weekend – destination as yet undecided – so watch this space!

Hope the last week in January treats you well.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I thank the reviewers on the blog tour for A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow

On the fortnight anniversary since the release of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow, the blog tour has finished. Actually, it officially finished yesterday but one of the posts hadn’t appeared so I wanted to give until the end of today to see if it did. Sometimes a time difference can mean delays or a reviewer might be caught up with work or life and be a little late, although sometimes the review doesn’t appear at all.

I used to panic about ‘no-shows’ on a blog tour thinking it was a sign that the reviewer hated my book and couldn’t find the words to convey how much… but I gave myself a stern talking to, realising it very likely was nothing to do with the book at all.

The amazing bloggers/reviewers who are involved in the tours do this because they love books and want to share that love. They do this alongside day jobs/ family commitments/ caring responsibilities/ illness/ and a big pile of other responsibilities. And sometimes they just don’t get the opportunity to read the book. Or they read it but don’t get the opportunity to write a review. Stuff just gets in the way. And I completely understand that and would hate to think that anyone might ever feel stressed about missing their date. Reading should be a delight.

We had 41 stops scheduled across 14 days and, although there were 3 no-shows, there were 6 lovely posts from bloggers not on the tour so we’ll include them and call it 44 stops. There were also several reviews on Instagram outside of the tour too for which I’m very grateful.

I usually do some sleuthing to try to track down the star ratings for those who haven’t given one with their reviews but I’m really against it with a writing deadline so I haven’t done that this time. The stats are:

  • 26 x 5-star
  • 2 x 4.5-star
  • 1 x 4.25 star (it was an 8.5/10)
  • 4 x 4-star
  • 11 x no ratings given (so I’m going to call them all 5-star ha ha ha!)

My favourite star-rating (which I’ve counted in the 5-star stats) has to be 5 billion. Thank you to Ceri’s Book Blog for that!

There was a lot of love out there for A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow and for the series in general – as you can see from a random selection of the quotes I’ve included in this post – which warmed my heart so much across the cold January days!

There were some reviewers for whom this was the first visit to Hedgehog Hollow and others who’d read the whole series and had been eagerly awaiting the resolution of that massive cliffhanger from Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow and it was interesting to read the perspectives from both.

An enormous THANK YOU to all the bloggers/reviewers who participated. I always try to comment on all blog and Instagram posts but sometimes I’ll miss an Insta if it’s in addition to the blog post and I haven’t been tagged in so I do apologise if I have missed any. And a huge THANK YOU as always to the fabulous Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising it all on behalf of my amazing publisher, Boldwood Books.

I’m writing the 5th book in the series at the moment and it’s a relief to see there’s certainly appetite for more from the cast of human and spiky characters at Hedgehog Hollow. Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow will be out on 28th June and is available for pre-order on Kindle now (other formats will be up for pre-order later).

I’d also like to thank some of the amazing Facebook groups like The Friendly Book Community and Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club for their support on publication day and beyond, and to Book Swap Central for hosting me as author of the month to coincide with publication date.

And not forgetting the amazing members of my own reader’s group, Redland’s Readers who’ve shared such kind feedback about this latest instalment. You’re very welcome to join us on Facebook. It’s not a book review group as there are fabulous groups who already do this so well already. It’s simply a warm and friendly space to talk spoiler-free about my books and settings and share pictures of hedgehogs, the seaside, beach huts and bears – all lovely things relating to my books – and to get a few insights into the world of publishing.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we escaped the fog to visit Sandsend and Whitby

I learned a new phrase about the weather on Saturday from watching Celebrity Catchphrase of all things and it was spookily appropriate to describe the weather in Scarborough that day – a ‘pea-souper’. I am familiar with the phrase ‘the fog’s as thick as pea soup’ to describe particularly thick fog, but I’ve never heard of the shorter version ‘pea-souper’.

The munchkin had planned a day out with her friends so hubby and I had decided to take a trip up the coast to Whitby. We were a little apprehensive looking at the thick fog but hoped it would clear by the time we got to Whitby. It actually cleared as soon as we were out of Scarborough and what a contrast just a short distance up the coast with blue skies and sunshine!

We started with a trip to Sandsend just north of Whitby. I thought I was familiar with Sandsend but it appears I’m not as there’s a whole section of village I’ve never explored before as I usually park on the south side and explore the area round the beach there.

Transected by a river, half of this unfamiliar part of the village was bathed in bright sunshine but the other half was still covered in frost so it’s amazing to think that these photos were taken minutes apart of houses on the opposite side of the river!

From what we could tell, this part of the village mainly seemed to be holiday cottages owned by an estate but they were some sympathetically-build new builds nestling among very pretty old period cottages and a church.

We moved onto Whitby for a chippy lunch (rude not to) and caught the swing bridge opening for a couple of yachts to come through. Although the geography of Whitsborough Bay is predominantly modelled on Scarborough, I do have a river with a swing bridge which brings in this aspect of Whitby.

Whitby has always been one of my favourite places and I love being there on days like Saturday where it’s cold and crisp and there’s a buzz but it’s not heaving with people.

We spotted the most fabulous aeroplane trail which looked like it was coming straight out of the 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church!

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of Scarborough as, when we got back, it was still a pea-souper and it would have been great to compare the two. But I didn’t so here’s a few more pictures of Whitby looking fabulous…

It’s Blue Monday today – allegedly the most ‘depressing’ day of the year because of the combination of post-Christmas, cold days/dark nights and time since last payday – so I hope these help bring a smile to your face instead.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the chart neighbours who make me smile

I love watching the chart positions of my books. I’m probably a little more obsessed about it than I should be but there are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s such a thrill to see my books doing so well after all the years of struggling and I find I need to look just to reassure myself that I’m not just dreaming
  2. My mum keeps a watch (thank you, Mum) so I need to be on the ball too!
  3. There are certain moments that really make me smile which I’d miss if I didn’t keep an eye out

What do I mean by the moments that make me smile? It’s those snapshots in time where my book appears in the chart next to:

  • An author friend
  • One of #TeamBoldwood (my publishing buddies) who are, of course, also friends but most are only virtual friends as Boldwood have mainly existed during a pandemic world so we’ve never met
  • An exceptionally famous author / an author I’m in awe of
  • A non-fiction author who is an expert in a subject connected to my books
  • An author who has a connection to my past

This first instance I can remember of this happening was before I joined Boldwood. In the year I released Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop (called Charlee and the Chocolate Shop at the time) and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (title unchanged), I put them in relevant category charts where they toppled experts from the #1 spot. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop appeared in a chart about cooking ingredients (chocolate), knocking Jamie Oliver into the #2 position and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes was in cake-making and did the same to Mary Berry. I probably do have the screenshots somewhere but no idea where I’ve filed them!

Of course, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry will have sold absolutely monster quantities of their books as hardbacks but this brief snapshot of time where I was next to these experts in the charts was a special (and amusing) moment.

There were many occasions after that where I was chart buddies with my writing family, The Write Romantics, including when the Top 10 in the Christmas category chart was dominated by our Christmas releases. Aww.

Yesterday, I checked the UK Kindle Top 100 first thing and was greeted by this lovely sight:

As you can see, A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow is at #58 in this screenshot but positions #54 to #57 are all held by Boldwood authors! Jo Bartlett, Alex Stone and Alison Sherlock are all publishing buddies and Jo is also the co-founder of the Write Romantics with me so what a special moment this was. Not quite sure who invited Kazuo Ishiguro to the party but he was welcome to join us as long as he’d brought cake with him!

The past few days have also brought some special moments over on Audible but before I share those, I have to share a special moment of a different kind because the hedgehogs surpassed themselves in the Audible Top 100 yesterday…

I casually checked the Audible chart first thing, wondering if they were even still in the Top 100 as they’d been at the lower end over the past couple of days so I was astonished to see that they’d made a huge leap into the Top 40. Only just – at #40 itself – but that’s still Top 40 so I’m claiming that status! Book 4 had also finally hit the #1 position in the Romance chart which was thrilling.

But back to the special chart neighbours moments… The first was on Thursday when, as I said before, the Audible position of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow was a little lower. When I was at university, many moons ago, I studied Banking & Finance with the intention of becoming a bank manager. Except I hated the finance part of it which was a bit of a problem. Thankfully, among the dreaded accountancy, economics and quantitative analysis modules, there were interesting subjects I did understand like HR, marketing, management, strategy and banking law.

In our management module, we studied the work of an American management guru called Stephen Covey. First published in 1989, it was a huge bestseller. Sitting in lectures discussing Covey’s principles, I could never have imagined there’d be a day where I’d be an author sitting beside that man in the charts. I literally couldn’t have imagined it because the audiobook wasn’t invented then – although the precursor of listening to books on cassettes and CDs had been – and being an author wasn’t even close to being on my radar then. I’d already sussed that being a bank manager wasn’t for me either but writing was an idea that emerged about a decade later.

After graduating, I followed a career in HR, specialising in recruitment, training, coaching and mentoring, and Covey’s work frequently popped up.

Then this morning, I had another blast from the past moment with another management guru. I was sponsored to go to university by TSB which basically meant I received a book grant each year (and text books were expensive so it was very much needed!), did a year out with them in my third year, and undertook holiday work in a local branch. I knew I wanted to work in HR or marketing at this point and managed to secure a placement in their Head Office in Birmingham for my year out.

One of my roles was organising and managing the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) which was a room full of books, cassettes, CDs and videos relating to leadership and management. I loved working in there. It was like being in charge of my own little library. There were workstations where staff would work their way through interactive videos – huge laserdiscs (the size of a vinyl album) where they could watch a scenario, make a decision on how they’d handle it, and watch that good or bad decision play out.

Anyway, one of the resources was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and who should I be next to in the Audible UK chart this morning but Mr Carnegie himself? In the LRC, it was such a popular book that it had a waiting list and I frequently had to chase staff to return it. Again, who’d have thought that when I was working in my own little library that books I’d written would one day appear in libraries? Or that I’d be one step ahead in the charts of the book that was the most popular when I ran that little library?

So there you go. A few moments that have really made me smile. I hope there are many things that make you smile across the weekend. Have a good one!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Making Wishes at Bay View makes a 2nd birthday wish

I’m celebrating a book birthday today! Making Wishes at Bay View – book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series – is celebrating its second book birthday today. Woo hoo!

14th January 2020 was the start of a quick-release schedule for the four books in the series aimed to create an appetite for my writing and build my readership. Book 2 and 3 – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove were released in mid-February with the final book, Coming Home to Seashell Cottage out in mid-March.

It’s so strange to think that two years ago today, we were merrily going about our business, aware of the news of some flu-like bug that had taken hold in China, but with absolutely no idea of what was about to hit the world. A few days after book 4 was released, the UK went under restrictions around travel and working from home. Lockdown.

But we’re not here to talk about that! We’re here to celebrate!

Making Wishes at Bay View was the second title of mine to go into The Works and the first one I signed there which was a fabulous moment. In fact, so lovely that I got to do it twice as they had a second batch in when I went in to sign Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow stocked a little later (which is why I have 2 different masks on in the pics below).

I’ve seen it in two of my local garden centres too – Irton Garden Centre (British Garden Centres) and Dean’s Garden Centre – although I was too chicken to alert staff to me being the author and ask if they’d like me to sign them. Actually, that’s not true. When I first spotted it in one of the garden centres (won’t say which), I mentioned in a nervous garble that I’d written it and the sales assistant couldn’t have been less interested. I walked out mortified and really wished I hadn’t been brave and spoken up.

Looking back, it’s very possible she didn’t actually pick up what I’d said as we were all getting used to the world of mask-wearing and how muffled it makes the voice. Yes, that definitely could have been it. I’ll go with that!

I had the exciting news this week that the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series hit the New Year with more than 185k sales. Each individual book has sold over 40k copies with Making Wishes at Bay View out int he front with 53k copies. My wish is for the other books to make it over that 50k hurdle and to reach the 200k mark for the series. What a special moment that will be.

It was interesting looking at my sales figures as my best selling individual book is Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I’d never totted up sales figures across each series but I always imagined that the Hedgehog Hollow series had sold the most because it seems to be the one most readers talk about. I was therefore surprised to see that the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series was significantly further ahead. Granted, all the books in the W2WB series have been out longer and book 4 in the Hedgehog Hollow series has only just been released so it’s not quite a level playing field but, as I say, it was a surprise. A pleasant one. I sometimes feel sorry for these books because the hedgehogs get so much love and I’m so proud of them and love the stories. Great to see that they’re holding their own!

So happy birthday to Making Wishes at Bay View and thank you to anyone who has bought/borrowed one or more book in this series. As ever, I’m so very grateful.

Big hugs
Jessica xx