Anyone who listened to my Facebook Live ‘in conversation’ last night will have heard the amazing news from my editor, Nia, that I’d just had confirmed earlier in the day.
The figures were in for December’s sales and my books have surpassed 250,000 units sold. That’s quarter of a million! I know you can work that out for yourself but I kind of need to write it down for myself as I can’t quite believe it! Eek!
This is a figure I never dreamed was possible in my days as a struggling indie author when an amazing week would be shifting more than ten copies.
Units mean a sale in any format – eBook purchase, paperback sale, audio, borrow etc. – once released by Boldwood Books so doesn’t include any sales under previous indie titles and, as it is up until the end of December 2020, doesn’t include my latest release – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow.
The figure does include ‘sales’ when books were on free promotions which both Making Wishes at Bay View and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes were at some point last year. But even so!
Thank you so very, very much to anyone who has discovered my stories and helped make this happen. I could not be more thrilled.
So, it’s finally arrived. The end of 2020. The year many people have wanted to “do one” for a long time.
It’s probably not a bold statement to say that it’s the strangest year that most of us will ever have experienced and, pretty please, can it be the last time we do?
But while this may be a completely bonkers surreal year that many will want to push to the back of their minds filed under ‘grim’, 2020 has been an amazing year for me professionally, seeing so many dreams come true. So, while there are many reasons why I want to send 2020 to the naughty step, I want to high-five it too.
This is a rundown, quarter by quarter, of what 2020 has looked like for me personally and professionally, presented in order of occurrence. When I originally wrote it, it was nearly a novel in itself so I have massively cut it down to highs and lows. Even so, it’s still long as so much has happened professionally this year. I honestly don’t know if anyone other than my mum or hubby will read it all but thank you if you do! xx
JANUARY to MARCH 2020
Happy New Year and the start of a new decade. How exciting! I eagerly anticipated the year ahead with a whopping seven Boldwood releases made up of six of my back catalogue and one new novel, and I hoped this would be the year I could leave my day job as an HR Tutor and write full-time.
Little did we know that reports of a flu-like illness in China were going to change our lives beyond all recognition.
Release of the entire re-edited ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series:
Making Wishes at Bay View (14th Jan)
New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (20th Feb)
Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (20th Feb)
Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (12th Mar)
Seaside Blooms broke into the UK Kindle Top 1,000 on 19th March and kept climbing
Making Wishes at Bay View was selected as Apple’s free book of the week (9th – 15th March) propelling it to the top of the free Apple Books chart
A massive knock-on effect on the rest of the series with a #3 for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, #13 for Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and #24 for Coming Home to Seashell Cottage. They all made it into the Top 5 on the Romance category occupying positions #2, #3 and #5 at one point
Celebrating hubby’s 50th birthday with a meal with his parents just before going into a national lockdown
Normality for almost three months, regularly meeting up with Sharon Booth (great friend and super talented author) and attending the RNA’s Beverley Chapter meeting
Saying goodbye in January to our beloved cat, Felix. After nearly 14 years with us, I was – and still am – heartbroken to have lost him
The munchkin, age 13, experienced a scary bullying incident on the bus home from school, so serious we needed to involve the police who classified it as an assault
Lockdown. I don’t think I need to expand on that! Although munchkin’s grumbles at being made to do the Joe Wicks PE session every weekday morning provided us with great amusement!
APRIL to JUNE 2020
This quarter started with a second month of panic-buying where household staples like toilet roll, pasta, cans of soup and flour were like gold dust. Hand sanitiser, paracetamol and disinfectant were also in short supply.
Zoom – something I personally had never even heard of until this year – became a life-saver for keeping in touch, as did social media (although you had to be careful not to be sucked down the rabbit hole of scary statistics and conspiracy theories!)
I’m going to swap it around for this month and start with the lows because they directly led to the highs in this quarter. I will just remind you that these are presented in order of occurrence rather than severity.
An unprecedented increase in work volumes as students took advantage of lockdown to race through their assignments. Enrolments of new students soared through the roof and, whilst financially amazing, the stress levels in trying to keep up were extraordinary. All without support or thanks from our manager
I couldn’t face celebrating my birthday and chose to largely ignore it
My older brother turned 50 and couldn’t have the celebrations planned with his friends or family – a common story for so many this year
Cancellation of two theatre trips – a day trip to Leeds to see Sister Act and a weekend away to see Six
Family holiday to Portugal over May half-term cancelled
The unexpected and sudden loss of our brother-in-law, aged only 50. RIP, Richard, with love xx
Resigning from the day job and becoming a full-time writer from 8th June. It had always been my dream to be able to earn enough to be able to write full-time and it had finally happened. The increased income would give me a buffer while my writing royalties (hopefully) increased from my new releases
Apple asked if they could repeat the UK promotion in the USA. Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #16 in the free chart and the series sold well on the back of this
Amazon selected New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms for a Prime deal. It was already inside the Top 100 by then but it peaked at #14 on 17th May thanks to being in Prime
People were turning to books for escapism, comfort and boredom relief. Uplifting stories of love and friendship – exactly what I write – fit the bill perfectly and this was reflected in my sales
Receiving messages from readers who’d binge read my Boldwood releases and the rest of my indie back catalogue and wanted to thank me for giving them such an uplift and welcome escape. Wow! I certainly hadn’t been expecting that
During the summer, Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #144, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove to #145 and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage to #165. I’d never experienced chart positions like this. I’d barely hoped to dream of them and kept waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it was a dream
How proud the munchkin made us. She moaned about Joe Wicks but not about studying and, with only a few nudges to ask her teachers for more work when she’d run out, she showed amazing maturity, never once moaning about being in lockdown and missing her friends
JULY to SEPTEMBER 2020
Restrictions had lifted in the UK but I pretty much remained a hermit. It’s not so much that I was afraid to go out but more that there seemed no point taking the risk. Being substantially overweight I am in a higher risk category and, with so many holiday-makers flocking to the coast, I felt my local town and beach were no-go areas. I managed a few local walks with the dog, hubby and munchkin – and even did an evening walk along the main seafront before the holidays hit – but that was about it. And my bottom has just expanded and expanded as a result!
The first book in a series set in a hedgehog rescue centre – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – was released on 2ndJuly. I was a little bit nervous about it as it was a new setting for me but the hedgehogs captured the hearts of readers
An impressive number of pre-orders meant an astonishing UK Kindle chart position of #291 on publication day, peaking at #86 in mid-August. My second Top 100 book. Yay! It made it to #40 in Canada and #11 in Australia
The Secret to Happiness appeared in branches of The Works. I chatted to the staff and took photos but I never thought to ask if they’d like me to sign copies. Muppet. Missed opportunity!
Boldwood celebrated one year since their first release. What an amazing first year of trading they’d had. We were invited to a summer moment on Zoom to celebrate which was pretty special
Release of the re-edited Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (13th Aug). Initially it was free and reached #8 in the free UK Kindle chart, #43 in Australia, #20 in Canada and #15 in the USA
Release of the re-edited Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. An impressive number of pre-orders saw an amazing release day chart position of #204
Met my parents outdoors on a couple of occasions
Sharon and I also managed one meeting but not for as long as usual. It was brilliant to be able to meet in person but the time went far too quickly
The munchkin returned to school and started three years of study towards her GCSEs. One of the bus bullies apologised (I think lockdown gave her plenty of thinking time), a truce has been reached and there’ve thankfully been no further incidents
Hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a mid-week visit to Thorp Perrow Arboretum. It was a gorgeous day and there were very few people around so it was the perfect place to go. And, being only a short drive away from my parents, we stopped off at theirs for a socially distanced cuppa before coming home
The Works stocked another book – Making Wishes at Bay View – and this time I signed them. Proud author moment!
I was astonished and thrilled to be offered another contract with Boldwood for a whopping 12 brand new books. I nearly fell off my chair! The first book in that contract will be a brand new Christmas story in September 2021. Before that, there’ll be four more books released in January, March, May and August to see out the original contract: books 2 and 3 in the Hedgehog Hollow series (January/May) and the remaining two in my back catalogue (March/August)
After only a week back at school, unable to see properly with her mask on, the munchkin tripped over a raised drain cover, went splat, landed awkwardly and broke her arm. Cue scary dash up to school and a trip to A&E to get a pot put on
She later fell down the stairs at school, also struggling to see properly in her mask, and made a right mess of both of her shins, scraping the skin off and badly bruising them both. The good news was she didn’t break her arm again!
The increased attention on me and my books massively exacerbated my imposter syndrome and I struggled to feel worthy of the amazing things happening to me. Writing a week-long series of posts about what this meant and how it manifested itself did me the world of good and I have been able to continue to make great inroads in quietening my ‘you’re not good enough’ demons since then, although I don’t think they’ll ever completely disappear and I’ve still had the occasional moment
OCTOBER to DECEMBER 2020
Now with the country in tiers, each tier dictating a specific set of rules, it seemed there was no end in sight. Another lockdown. Then came a ray of hope: a vaccination had been approved and would be rolled out imminently. Hurrah!
As Christmas approached, with a new strain of the virus spreading at an alarming rate, Christmas plans changed for many.
All ten books sported an orange Amazon #1 Best Seller tag at the same time. TEN! Wow! What a special moment that was! (13th Oct)
A socially distanced Hallowe’en BBQ at my parents’ house. A BBQ in late October in this country was certainly a first but a big brolly kept the rain off and the patio heater worked its magic!
The Works wanted another of my books and squeezed in an order of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I managed to see it in my local branch – and sign the copies as well as another batch of Making Wishes at Bay View – before going into the second lockdown
Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – no longer available for free – became my third book to get inside the Top 100, reaching #93 on 1st November. It only stayed inside the Top 100 for two days but that doesn’t matter. It still made it which, considering how many thousands of free copies it shifted, I wasn’t expecting
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café broke the Top 100 too, peaking at #24 in the UK, #11 in Canada and an astonishing #3 in Australia. Woo hoo! With the exception of one day, it stuck around in the Top 100 right until Christmas Eve. I was a bit gutted it didn’t stay in the Top 100 for Christmas but over a month in the Top 100 wasn’t too shabby!
Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes achieved 1,000 reviews/ratings (16th Nov). At the start of the year, none of my books had more than 100 reviews. Today, it has hit 1,600. Still can’t quite believe it!
The Secret to Happiness went on a USA BookBub deal – the only of my books to have done this – and it got to #32 in the USA in mid-November. That market is enormous and I certainly never expected that!
Guest speaker slots on a Facebook Live with Kim The Bookworm and with Exeter Libraries
Part of a Boldwood Christmas books panel on My VLF (My Virtual Literature Festival) which was great fun
Interviewed by a reader, Liz Clifton, about confidence and motivation
Guest on Julie Morris’s blog – A Little Bookish Problem – twice
The Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series continued to perform well and, in mid-December, all of them passed 500 reviews/ratings on Amazon
Cancellation of my graduation ceremony after achieving my Masters in Creative Writing through Open University in late 2019
Cancellation of our October half-term holiday to Lancaster (to give us access to Blackpool and the Lake District) as Lancaster was in tier 3 so we (in tier 2 at the time) couldn’t travel there
Not able to see my side of the family over Christmas or my husband’s sisters
The tragic news that my second cousin died just before Christmas. Aged only 42, my heart is broken for his mum (my cousin) and her family and for another lovely man taken far too soon. RIP, Gary, with love xx
AND TO CLOSE…
Whether you’ve read the Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities or not, you probably know the beginning: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” And that pretty much sums up my 2020.
For the best of times, I have achieved my dream of writing full-time, I am fortunate enough to work with the most incredible publisher with a wonderful team who support and respect all their authors as well as making us all feel equally important. Through Boldwood, I’ve had four books inside the Kindle UK Top 100 and Apple Top 100 this year, a Top 3 in Australia and Top 40 in the USA. All of my books have sported bestseller tags at the same time. Every book Boldwood has released has passed 500 reviews/ratings with one exceeding 1,600 and another marching towards 1,000. Quite honestly, it has been phenomenal.
But for the worst of times, I’ve lost my brother in law, a second cousin, and our gorgeous cat, and my daughter was assaulted. The disappointment of birthdays, holidays, theatre trips, weekends away and a graduation ceremony all cancelled pales into insignificance when faced with such loss and sadness.
I haven’t seen my brothers or their families since last Christmas although we did a regular family Zoom across the first lockdown. Hubby and I have never had much of a social life – we’re home bunnies and only have a few friends in the area – but we do miss being able to meet up with the small number of people we know and, as writing tends to be a lonely business, I’ve really missed my fortnightly meet-ups with Sharon.
I send my love and best wishes to my family affected by loss, and to anyone else for whom this year has been particularly tough whether that be through illness, bereavement, employment (or lack of it), finances, loneliness or any of the many other challenges that may have been faced.
My eternal gratitude goes to Boldwood Books and, in particular my editor, Nia, for making my dreams come true and being such a joy to work with. And thanks to my fellow Boldwood authors for all the support you’ve given and any reviews/promotions of my work.
Thank you to all the book bloggers/reviewers who’ve been so kind this year and to Rachel Gilbey for organising my blog tours.
I can’t thank enough all the amazing readers who’ve bought, borrowed, downloaded, and/or streamed any or all of my books. Thank you for choosing to take a journey to Whitsborough Bay and/or Hedgehog Hollow and for all the lovely messages on social media. You give me the encouragement to keep making stuff up!
To Sharon and my fellow-Write Romantic family, you’re my writing rocks and I couldn’t imagine how I’d have navigated my way through the troubled world of publishing without you all. It’s been lovely having such good virtual friends supporting each other in this difficult year. And to the Beverley chapter, I’ve loved our catch-ups.
Thank you to new writing friends I’ve made this year – Sam Tonge, Vicky Walters, Kim Nash and many others who’ve supported or promoted my work and whose books I’ve enjoyed reading. I hope we can meet in person next year.
And finally, to my biggest fan – my mum – my amazing husband and our wonderful daughter, thank you for all your excitement and encouragement. It really does keep me going. I know my dad is also super proud so thank you daddy bear too.
For anyone out there with a dream, chase it. Because dreams really do come true and I’m living, breathing proof of that.
When I finish writing a book, I love typing ‘The End’. Despite all the amazing things that have happened for me this year, I am relieved to stamp ‘The End’ on 2020 and look ahead to exciting writing achievements and some sort of normality in 2021.
Let’s face it, Christmas 2020 isn’t going to pan out the way any of us had planned (or re-planned) so saying “Happy Christmas” does feel a little strange, but I do absolutely wish it for everyone and hope you can still enjoy the day with family and/or friends, even if that means in smaller numbers or virtually.
A meme has been doing the rounds on social media this week showing soldiers in trenches on Christmas Day 1914. It’s a sobering image and, in my opinion, a valuable reminder that it may have been a really tough year compared to what we are used to but we do have so much to be thankful for…
And, scary news about virus mutations rapidly spreading aside, let’s look forward to next year with vaccinations and hopefully some sort of return to normality (albeit a new normality) so I also wish you a Happy New Year and THANK YOU so much for making so many writing dreams come true this year by choosing my stories and writing such gorgeous reviews…
Sending much love and strength to those who have lost someone this year (Covid-related or otherwise), have lost their job, had financial struggles, been lonely, been ill or any number of challenges faced during the strangest of years.
And sending particular best wishes to my own family who have lost three loved ones this year, two of whom were taken far too young and one as recently as Saturday. RIP to my brother-in-law Richard, my cousin Gary and my brother-in-law’s mother Mary. My thoughts with their families as they come to terms with their tragic losses. As I light my candles on Christmas Day, I’ll be thinking of you all.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my daughter believing in Santa Claus. Not unusual. Except my daughter was in senior school and about to turn thirteen.
I shared the concerns my husband and I had about her being bullied at school for her beliefs and the debate we’d had as to whether to tell her what most children had worked out (or been told) years earlier. I canvassed opinion and, without exception, everyone who responded on the blog post or when I shared it on Facebook said to keep the magic going.
Last year we had the most amazing family holiday to Lapland, flying out on Ashleigh’s birthday and returning a few days later. It really was magical and made all the more so because Ashleigh still believed, although the visit to see ‘the real Santa’ was actually one of the least impressive parts of the trip. He seemed a bit bored, insulted her question as predictable (how rude!) and we felt a bit rushed. Not to worry, though, as every other part of the trip was fabulous.
So, as thoughts turned to Christmas this year, hubby and I braced ourselves. Would this be the year she stopped believing?
A few weeks ago, before we went into Lockdown2 in England, Ashleigh and I nipped into town after school to pick up a copy of A Christmas Carol; the book she’s studying in English. As we were driving home discussing the book, the conversation inevitably turned to Christmas.
‘My friends keep telling me Santa doesn’t exist,’ she said.
I have always approached this with my standard answer: ‘What do you think?’
‘I think that I’m probably of an age where, if he doesn’t exist, I should know that….’
I braced myself for her to admit it, slightly gutted that we’d finally reached that point.
‘…but I still think he does exist.’ And then she rattled off the same evidence about her dad making the desk she’d used before. (You can read about that in my original post here).
She stuck with the subject and I couldn’t decide whether she was hinting that she would like me to tell her ‘the truth’ so I tried something different: ‘So your friends say Santa doesn’t exist and you say he does. What would you say if I said he didn’t?’
She looked at me for a moment and shook her head. ‘It would make me cry so I don’t want you to tell me.’
And we changed the subject.
About a week later, it cropped up again. In Religious Studies, they’d been talking about the difference between facts and beliefs. ‘Some of my friends said that believing in Santa was a belief instead of Santa existing being a fact.’
‘What did you say?’ I asked, wondering if this was the moment.
‘I said it was a belief too but I didn’t tell them I believe.’
I felt so sad for her. I sensed she was struggling and wanted it confirming but, unless she directly came out and asked me to tell her the absolute honest truth, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. In the turd of a year that 2020 has been, why wouldn’t I want to hold onto this wonderful piece of magic for her for as long as I could?
Then a week ago … and I’m actually crying as I write this because it breaks my heart … she arrived home from school and burst into tears. She had a horrific bullying incident on the bus at the start of the year – so serious it involved the police – and I was scared it had reared its ugly head again but, instead she wailed, ‘XXX and XXX were laughing at me on the bus. They told me Santa doesn’t exist and they laughed at me and said it’s your parents and everyone knows that from, like, when they’re six. They were really horrible.’
She then asked for the truth and I had to admit they were right. To say they weren’t would confuse her, diminish her respect in us, and set her up for further bullying.
She was inconsolable. I asked her what hurt the most: her friends bullying her or discovering Santa didn’t exist. It was the latter and my heart broke even more.
We had lots of cuddles and she was reassured that she’d still put her stocking out and get presents, we’d still put out a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign and hang the magic key on the door, and we’d still leave treats for Santa and the reindeer. But it was us who’d buy, wrap (and make where required) the gifts and put them out when she’d gone to bed.
I’m so disappointed for her that this little piece of magic was taken away in the year when we need it most. I’m also disappointed in the cruelty of the girls who mocked her, especially as one is meant to be a good friend but I don’t think they really meant to be nasty; it was probably just a surprise to have someone of their age still believing. I tried to imagine myself at their age if one of my friends had still believed. Maybe I’d have laughed too.
A couple of days later, she had a serious question for me. The family of elves who come and wreak havoc…. were they us too? Yes, they were and the reason they often didn’t move was because we forgot or we ran out of ideas!
‘We might as well get it all out there,’ I said. ‘Who else do you think doesn’t exist?’
She looked at me blankly.
I tapped my teeth and flapped my arms.
‘The tooth fairy?’ she asked, laughing. ‘I haven’t believed in her for years. Like fairies really exist! What do you take me for?’
So apparently it’s a ridiculous notion that fairies exist but a bearded man in a red suit delivering gifts to all of the children around the world in one night was absolutely plausible. Love it!
So now she knows. This Christmas will be different anyway. We won’t get to see either of our families like we normally would as, with hubby and I having two siblings each, that would be four families connecting on each side. And now, with a non-believer in the house, it will be even more different. We’ll do our best to keep the magic going, though. Right now, I believe in Santa and miracles. Don’t you?
I’ve had a really hectic Christmas and feel as though I blinked and missed it.
Going away on holiday before Christmas was a first for us and, in some ways, it meant a longer run-up to Christmas because I needed to get my presents bought and wrapped so much earlier than normal. I was looking forward to a few days to relax and get into the Christmas spirit before the big day itself but the reality was that I had to retreat into my editing cave and lock the door. Other than a short break on Monday afternoon (23rd) to see Last Christmas at the cinema (amazing by the way) – which I’d probably not have done if I hadn’t pre-booked the tickets before our holiday – I was in my editing cave until early evening on Christmas Eve when I forced myself to stop working. I was then back to it on Boxing Day and finally finished what I needed to do late that evening. I’ve been fortunate enough, whether employed or self-employee, never to have had to work on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day so this was a bit of a shock to the system for me! It therefore meant I didn’t have the immediate build-up I normally have which is why I feel I blinked and missed Christmas.
There was no time to draw breath as we had family gatherings on the next couple of days so yesterday (Sunday), I announced I was going to lie in then stay in my PJs all day and watch films. So that’s what I did. Well, maybe not quite all day because I had a few things to do on the morning, but I popped on some ‘loungewear’ and slobbed in front of the TV to watch Fisherman’s Friends (loved it), The Princess Switch (loved it although I’d already watched it when wrapping gifts last month so this was more for munchkin than me) and Avengers: Endgame (loved it although struggled a bit to remember what had happened in previous films). And I wrote a blog post about the past year which I’ve just completely scrapped because I decided it was more boring than a boring thing that’s really tediously mind-numbingly boring whilst wearing its most boring clothes and visiting Boringville. Yes, it really was that bad.
So my alternative post today is more about reflecting on the past decade instead where I went from an aspiring writer to becoming an international best-selling author. Eek!
At the start of this decade, I was working for a very well-known food manufacturer with a strong presence in York (think chocolate, coffee, cereal, water and pet food) in a job that I absolutely adored. I was responsible for designing and running development centres for factory-based staff who had the potential to become shift managers or engineering managers but needed to work on a few areas. It was one of those dream roles where it really is a round peg perfectly fitting in a round hole.
We were living in Scarborough town centre but had made the decision that we wanted to move out to a village and our house was on the market. I started helping out at a local Brownie pack in May and took over as Brown Owl in the September when the existing Brown Owl retired; something I’d always wanted to do, having gone through Brownies, Guides and Rangers myself.
My daughter was three and time for writing was very sparse although I had made a good start on my debut novel, Searching for Steven. Well, when I say good start, I mean there were lots of words. Not particularly good words and not in the right order but there were words which is significantly more progress than a blank page!
Then something really exciting happened. I’d made an 11th hour submission of a short story to a competition run by English Heritage for stories set at or inspired by Whitby Abbey. The top fifty would be selected and placed in an anthology from which profits would be ploughed back into the Abbey. It wasn’t as polished as it could have been but I was thrilled to have been selected as one of the top fifty. Woo hoo! Somebody thought I could write. It certainly spurred me on.
Remember that dream job I mentioned? It was taken away from me. A massive HR restructure gave it to someone completely inexperienced in training, coaching and development and left me ‘at risk’. I was devastated. We’d just accepted an offer on our house the day before I got the news and I was kept in the dark for one week, not knowing whether I had a job or not, and therefore not knowing if we’d be able to move. When the call finally came through, I was told that I did still have a job … back in the recruitment team where I’d started life at the company two years previously. The existing team had all lost their jobs and I was going to provide consistency for the new team being recruited.
The reality of this change was that I ended up doing my original job (because my replacement lacked the knowledge or experience to do it), my recruitment job, the graduate recruitment role (because the person doing that had left during the restructure too and I had expertise in this) and the Head of recruitment role. All for no extra money, or course. The further reality was that I couldn’t do any of the roles well because, let’s face it, who can do four full-time roles at the same time? On top of this, I was no longer home-based but, because the house sale had gone ahead and we’d moved out to a village, I now had a pig of a commute. I spent 4.25 hours commuting each day by a mixture of bus and train. I worked solidly during that commute and until 11pm each night because that was the only way I could even attempt to keep fire-fighting my many roles.
Needless to say, no writing got done in 2011. I’d been gutted that my application to join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) hadn’t arrived on time to secure me a place that year but, with hindsight, it was a blessing because there was no way I’d have been able to finish my manuscript for submission with the hours I was working.
My daughter started school in September and I managed to secure a couple of days off work so that I could take her on her first two days and be there when she finished. When I dropped her off on that first day, I burst into tears when I walked across the playground, realising that I was missing out on everything about her growing up with the stupid commute and the demands on my time from work. I returned to work the following week with my resignation letter.
At the start of 2012, I tried again with the RNA’s NWS. They’d changed the system so that you could apply via email instead of post and I secured my place that way. Yay! What this meant was that I needed to crack on with writing because I had a deadline of August to get my MS submitted. I work well when I have a deadline, though.
I’d started a home-based role conducting telephone interviews and, whilst this did see me working evenings and weekends, I did manage to find some time to write and got a draft of Searching for Steven submitted. The feedback was really positive and the key improvement needed was to make it shorter as it was at least 30k words over at nearly 130k words.
I turned 40 in May this year. I’d like to say that I had some huge life-changing epiphany but there was nothing so exciting. It was just another birthday and a milestone like that didn’t really bother me.
The life-change that didn’t happen when I turned 40 actually happened in 2013 when I joined a bootcamp. Three mornings a week, I rose at 5.15am (plus a Saturday slightly later) to go down to the seafront in Scarborough and work out for an hour. It was an amazing time, full of laughter and friendship, and I blogged about my journey towards losing half my body weight.
Searching for Steven went back through the NWS with a 30k cull – but various changes had added a different 30k words back in – so I knew I was going to get similar feedback to the first year. I did. But it was extremely helpful and insightful, helping me shape him to send out into the world of publishing the following year.
I attended the RNA’s conference for the first time and pitched Searching for Steven to a couple of digital first imprints who both loved it. One cited it as one of her favourite reads and both were sure they would be interested in publishing it and I should definitely submit the full MS. Naively I thought I was in there and, as soon as it was ready, I started sending it off to agents and publishers – including those two – and the waiting game commenced. And I waited… and waited… and waited.
Writer Jo Bartlett and I formed the Write Romantics, a group of ten writers who were all on the NWS and who had aspirations of becoming published. We started blogging together and soon developed quite a following.
Career-wise, 2013 was a bit of a disaster. Although repetitive, I’d enjoyed my telephone interviewing role but some significant changes were made to the work expected of us (more detail in the reports) but the pay rate per call actually decreased. Double the work for less money? Not exactly fair. I took a fixed term contract to do a coaching role at my local technical college but it turned out not to be a ‘real’ job and had been more about having someone in situ to avoid them losing some funding. I was made redundant after only five months into a two-year role and I couldn’t find another role without returning to commuting to York or perhaps even Leeds which I really didn’t want to do. I ended up securing a seasonal job in a garden centre on minimum wage just to have some money coming in. I actually really loved that role. Christmas at a garden centre? What isn’t to love?
At the end of the previous year, I started a training and development role at the Scarborough factory of an international food manufacturer (think frozen food, particularly chips or other potato-based products). In the summer, a request for flexible working was agreed meaning I worked my full-time hours across a Tuesday to Friday, giving me a Monday free. Monday was Brownies night so meant I could prepare for my meeting but the main bonus was a day to write. Luxury. There were niggles with the job but the day devoted to writing meant they weren’t that significant.
I finished Getting Over Gary (the second book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series) and submitted that to the NWS for critique. In the meantime, Searching for Steven rejections were coming in thick and fast. The two publishers who I’d met at the 2013 conference took forever to get back to me and actually had to be chased by the RNA as I wasn’t the only one waiting to hear. After a whopping 9 months, both said no. Oh. I was so sure one of them would take it from the reaction at the conference, although I’d become less sure as the months plodded past.
By this point, I had 23 rejections (or no response whatsoever) and, although some of them had been very positive, I was fed up. I hadn’t necessarily expected Searching for Steven to find a home so the rejections weren’t too upsetting; it was more the time and effort that was soul-destroying. Everyone wanted something different and, at that point in time, a lot of them wanted it via paper format so it was very expensive too. I had a couple more publishers to hear from and had decided to go indie if it was a no from them. But both said yes and I had a very happy dilemma on my hands.
I actually verbally accepted one but they were so slow in getting a contract drawn up that the other came through before I’d signed anything. I was also starting to get doubts about them as it seemed that, after saying they wouldn’t change much, they wanted to change loads, particularly removing the friendship focus and keeping the stories pure romance. The friendship thread was very important to me and was what made the series so it was actually very fortunate that So Vain Books made an offer and I went with them instead, signing my contract in September 2014.
On the day that Searching for Steven was published (3rd June 2015), my husband gave me a set of three canvasses. One had the front cover of Steven, one had the cover of a novella called Raving About Rhys that my publisher released in May as an introduction to the series, and the third had this quote on it:
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain
3rd June 2015
The day life changed for Jessica Redland
It made me cry. It is still above my desk and I draw inspiration from it when I doubt myself as a writer. I am a writer.
I had a launch party for Searching for Steven but it didn’t quite go as planned. The printers messed up and I actually had no paperbacks to sell. A launch party without a book to launch? I forgot to cut the cake and it was an unexpectedly hot day with no air con in the venue so everyone was melting. So I drunk lots of wine!
Just when my writing career was taking off and I could finally say “I’m a published author”, my HR career was about to take another nosedive. The company had gone through a major restructure and we were assured that, because HR was already streamlined, there would be no HR redundancies. Only they needed to trim a bit further and my job went. I was fortunate to walk straight into a role for a local recruitment agency but it was a real low point for me. The company and the people were great. I was not great at the job. Naively we’d all thought that my recruitment skills would translate well into the role but the reality is that a recruitment agency is a sales role; not a recruitment role. Me and sales? Very square peg and very round hole. I knew my days were numbered there.
I stopped going to bootcamp because I was couldn’t fit it in around my working hours and the three stone I’d lost (nowhere near my goal at that point) started to pile back on.
I’d worked at a local factory some years earlier and the engineering manager had rated me highly. When he realised I was working for the agency, he was keen to put a number of vacancies my way. It was worth a lot of money to the recruitment agency so I’d managed to cling on by my fingertips at the back end of 2015. 2016 arrived, the vacancies had all been filled, and I wasn’t bringing in much income so they let me go. They were right to do so because I was completely and utterly crap at the role, but this was the first time I’d ever been let go rather than made redundant and it was awful.
Fortunately I’d been working part time for a distance learning company for several years as an internal verifier and they were rapidly expanding. I’d already put out some feelers about working for them as a tutor too and this got escalated. I still have that role today, based from home, dealing with queries and marking assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification. I travelled a lot, running weekend workshops in London and Birmingham, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends based in both cities who I hadn’t seen in ages.
With hubby and I both home-based, we made the decision to get a dog; something hubby had always wanted. Ella the Sprocker Spaniel joined our family, much to Felix the cat’s disgust!
Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August respectively, concluding my series. And also concluding my time with So Vain Books. Things hadn’t worked out for them as hoped and I secured back my rights before the company ceased trading. Feeling very despondent, I decided to lick my wounds as an indie writer and see how that went before thinking about submitting again.
As an indie writer, I released Bear With Me, a standalone novel but still set in Whitsborough Bay like all my others. I was very proud of it but it didn’t soar. In fact, none of my books were setting the charts alight but I was working so many hours that I had no time available to invest in marketing and promotion so I had to just keep ticking along.
A lot of work travel meant a lot of time on trains and in hotel rooms to write and I managed to pen two Christmas books. I’d only planned to write one – Charlee and the Chocolate Shop – but I mentioned a shop called Carly’s Cupcakes in that book and suddenly had a vision for who Carly was and what her story was. It was begging to be written. So in October 2017, I released twoChristmas books and they sold far better than anything else I’d written … although still not quite as well as I’d have hoped.
I made a big decision in the summer to start studying towards a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University. I’d never thought I’d study again but I liked the thought of taking the next academic level in a subject I loved. If I was going to study, a sacrifice had to be made and the only one I could make was leaving Brownies. After 7.5 years with the pack, I stepped off my perch in December.
I was surprised to discover that a Christmas book is not just for Christmas. Charlee and Carly continued to sell in January, February, March … and all year round. It seemed that Christmas books were winners so I wrote another two for release ahead of Christmas 2018: Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe and Callie’s Christmas Wish, the latter being a follow-on to my novella Raving About Rhys.
Word was out, though: Christmas books sell. Everyone seemed to be writing them and neither book did as well as the two the previous year. And then Amazon sent me to Amazon Jail. They claimed I was engaging in activities to manipulate the sales and downloads of Searching for Steven. I wasn’t. I’m not clever enough or technical enough to even begin to know how to do this. So Steven was stripped of his rankings in all markets meaning he couldn’t be found in any searches unless someone specifically looked for that title. Sales practically disappeared.
Earlier in the year, I attended the RNA’s conference again. It wasn’t yet finished but I pitched a book called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye which told the story of several women who needed to say goodbye to someone or something in their lives but were struggling to find the strength to do so. It explored whether meeting each other via a bootcamp could give them the encouragement to let go. The setting was inspired by my bootcamp experiences and I was very proud of this piece of work. I pitched to four publishers who all enthused about it but two wanted it to go down a cosy romcom route and two wanted me to keep the contemporary women’s fiction I’d moved towards in my writing. They were particularly passionate about it finding a home with them. Only, when I finished it and submitted to them, they didn’t want it.
The rejections floored me and, with low sales across all my books, I began seriously questioning whether I could write or whether it was worth the heartache. Yet being a writer is who I am. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t tell my stories. The sales figures may not have screamed success but the reviews did and I’d regularly pick myself up looking at them.
In a home-based role, the weight continued to pile on and my despondence about my writing didn’t help me in doing anything about it. The long hours I worked between the day job, my Masters, and trying to write didn’t help either.
I started the year still languishing in Amazon jail. They finally released me in February and put me straight back in less than two weeks later, starting the hideous episode all over again.
A couple more rejections for my latest novel came through. Whilst acknowledging that I was a good writer with a great location for my books, they either didn’t “get” the bootcamp setting or didn’t think the book had enough of a “hook”. This floored me again and, on top of the Amazon jail situation, I wasn’t in a happy place with my writing in early 2019 and was flooded with doubts about my future as an author.
But things were about to change in a big way. On 1st February, a new publisher called Boldwood Books opened for business and they sounded different. Reading their website, Boldwood sounded like the perfect home for me. I just had to hope that they “got” the setting and thought it had a sufficient “hook”. Fortunately they did and, on 20th March, I received a whopping nine-book-deal from Boldwood for four brand new books and five from my back-catalogue. Woo hoo! It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye got a new identity as The Secret to Happiness and was launched on 3rd September. It came out in all formats (eBook, audio, large print and paperback) globally from day one; something very unique to Boldwood as part of their “publishing reimagined” offer.
The Secret to Happiness had performed well during its first month out but a Bookbub promotion in Canada and Australia in October saw me become an international bestseller with the amazing positions of number 9 and number 20 respectively in the overall Kindle charts in those countries. I still can’t quite believe I’m both a top 10 bestseller and an international bestseller. Eek! Some major promotions in the UK also saw the book achieve its highest UK chart position within the top 600 which was very exciting too.
More good news was on the way. After two years of studying, I passed my MA in Creative Writing with distinction which I couldn’t be more thrilled about. I worked so hard to achieve that grade but creative writing can be very subjective so I wasn’t sure I was going to quite get there in the end.
The Write Romantics still exist and the group have gone from being ten unpublished writers to ten published writers, whether that be traditionally, indie or through a hybrid approach. We no longer blog together as we simply don’t have the time with our individual social media activities to manage, but the support of the group is invaluable. Whenever one of us are experiencing a high or low, whether in writing or in life in general, there’s someone there to give a virtual hug of sympathy or congratulations. I’ve met every member at least twice and am very fortunate in having forged a very strong friendship with the fabulously talented Sharon Booth who I meet a couple of times a month to catch-up on all things writerly, and eat cake. Perfect!
As for 2020 and beyond…
I have a whopping six books coming out with Boldwood Books next year. That might sound excessive but five of them are from my back-catalogue. The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series that started my writing journey has been re-edited, re-packaged and re-titled. The novella has been combined with the follow-up Christmas short novel to make one book, turning this into a four-book series. Making Wishes at Bay View will be out on 14th January, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove will be released on 20th February and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage will come out on 17th March.
July 2nd will be the publication day for my next brand-new Boldwood release, which doesn’t have a title at the moment. Then Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe will be re-released on 1st October. This was my Christmas novel last year and I have added several new chapters to extend the story. I needed to keep it under 70k at the time because I’d submitted it for a competition where it couldn’t exceed that amount but, whilst the reader wasn’t left hanging, there was an aspect of the story I could have explored more and this has been my opportunity to do so.
My July release is part one of a new series and the second part will be out on 7th January 2021. I’ve only written one chapter so far so need to get cracking on that one very soon!
It’s still my dream to be able to write full-time one day. Maybe 2020 will be the year it happens. Got to dream big!
Wishing you all the best for a wonderful start to the new year and new decade. See you on the other side.