The one where the Write Romantics went to York

I’m part of a writing collective called the Write Romantics. Started by myself and fellow Boldwood author, Jo Bartlett in late 2012 with a plan to blog together, we realised that we had very little to blog about – both approaching but not quite being at the submissions point – so we opened it up in spring 2013 and asked if anyone else wanted to join us. Two became ten. We’re based all over the country from as far south as Brighton and as far north as Cumbria so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get together. I’ve met everyone – most on several occasions – but we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. Smaller numbers of us have done our best to meet up at RNA events over the years or catch up when we’ve been on holiday or working near one or more of the others.

Last November, six of us went to Stratford Upon Avon and had such a lovely time that we decided to arrange another get together for this November in York and had a whopping seven takers – the biggest number we’d have ever had in one place. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against us and numbers dropped and only three of us were able to make it – Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury and me. We missed the others loads but still had a lovely few days away together.

My parents take their caravan to a site just outside York each year to visit the Christmas markets and celebrate my mum’s birthday and it struck me we’d be there at the same time. My mum’s a voracious reader and has read most of the books the Write Romantics have written and has loved them all so she was very excited at the idea of meeting some of the group. As we couldn’t check in to our hotel until 3pm but had all planned to arrive earlier, we met her for lunch while my dad did a walk round the city walls.

After checking in, we had a little bit of writing downtime then met for tea. I didn’t think to take a photo but I had the most delicious meal. My ‘festive burger’ had turkey slices, stuffing, bacon, a sausage and cranberry sauce with a pig in blanket on the top, served with roast potatoes and gravy. Mmmm.

The forecast for Wednesday – our full day – was looking pretty dire for the morning so we decided there was no point traipsing into the city centre, getting wet and miserable, when it was meant to be clear in the afternoon. We loitered over breakfast and had been told we were fine to do so but felt a bit guilty when they started vacuuming round us so we returned to our rooms for a bit more writing time.

As forecast, the rain lifted at noon and we walked into the city, pausing on one of the bridges to take some photos of a very swollen River Ouse, although it wasn’t as high as it had been over the weekend.

None of us were planning on doing much in the way of Christmas shopping. It was more of a chance to wander round the market stalls, soak in the atmosphere and catch up. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of the selfie as I always find my eyes straying to the button I need to press so please excuse my dodgy gazing!

Here, we have the Christmas Markets, The Shambles, a nutcracker outside the Christmas shop on The Shambles, and York Minster. I had to pop into The Works to get a shelfie which included another couple of Write Romantics – Jo Bartlett and Helen Rolfe – in our trip, albeit in book format.

Speaking of books, I had an amazing surprise in Waterstones. I’d already been to York on Saturday to take my mum out for a birthday meal and my daughter and I had dived into a few shops. I love to go into branches of Waterstones and look at the R shelf, imagining seeing my books there so imagine my surprise when York Waterstones had a copy of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow in stock! They don’t stock my books so I’m assuming it was ordered in for a customer who failed to collect. Very exciting to see it there, even if that was the reason!

This is actually me on Saturday. I took Sharon over to the shelf yesterday and pretended it was a surprise to spot it there but I’m a rubbish liar and admitted pretty much straight away that I’d seen it at the weekend. She took a photo of me holding it which I was going to include here but then I realised it was on Sharon’s phone so I’ll get that off her and post it on social media instead.

Back to the Write Romantics trip, there were several nutcrackers around the city centre but I hadn’t noticed at first that they all had names on them. It seems there’s a nutcracker trail which would be a really lovely thing to do but we were nearly done with our wandering at this point. We’d paused on a bench next to a white one and I spotted that his name was Stephen so I had to take a picture. In my book New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Sarah goes searching for the man of her dreams called Steven and I’d just found him for her in nutcracker format!

Sharon had a gift voucher for tea for two at Patisserie Valerie so we went in there for a late lunch. I’ve never been in before but have always thought the cakes looked delicious. The afternoon tea looked impressive and we even managed to eat the scones without our usual debate as to how to pronounce the word so we must all have been tired! However, we were extremely unimpressed that there were no toilets in working order. There was a sign on the door saying no toilets and we assumed that was a deterrent for the general public but it was genuinely the case that the toilets were out of order. I’m pretty sure that’s actually illegal and not great when a food stop usually includes a toilet stop.

Sharon and Jackie headed back to the hotel and I stayed in the city centre for a little longer so I could grab a couple of Christmas gifts and catch the lights. My photos really don’t do justice to how pretty York looked as dusk turned to dark but hopefully they give you some flavour of it.

Today, we had breakfast, some writing time, then met for lunch before all heading home. I’ve got a very busy ten days ahead of me to finish writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Cafe. I’ve only written a third of it so far so that’s definitely going to be a challenge but I’ll get there.

We missed our other Write Romantics buddies but did have a lovely few days of writerly and family chat and hope it’s not too long before we can see the others. Thank you, Sharon and Jackie, for the fabulous company.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I remember the Top 40 singles chart

record-player-1851576_1920
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

When I was young, Sunday was ‘visiting day’; the day where we had our Sunday lunch then bundled into the car and visited my mum and/or dad’s family who lived about 35 miles away. It wasn’t every week but it was regular.

IMG_6892We’d stay for tea at my grandma and granda’s house or occasionally dine with or visit other relatives. Tea was always afternoon tea-style food with sandwiches and scones and cakes. Lovely. Ooh, I could just fancy a bit of cake right now. Nom nom.

On the way home in the car, we’d catch part of the UK Top 40 Singles Chart on BBC Radio 1. We’re talking the late 1970s and most of the 1980s here and this was way before the days of digital downloads. In fact, most of that time was before CDs, with the charts compiled purely on the sale of vinyl records. Showing my age here!

In those days, singles would typically enter the charts and gradually climb up week on week, sometimes only one or two chart positions at a time. It would be exciting listening out for whether our favourite records would have gone up that week and, if so, how far and it would be so disappointing if they’d dropped, especially as that would typically mean the song wasn’t played.

What was even more exciting was predicting who’d be in the Top 3. One of the DJs – can’t remember which one now – used to get listeners to phone in with their predictions.

robin-hood-4542423_1920
Image by Martin Ludlam from Pixabay

Many amazing records didn’t make it to number 1 but still sold in significant quantities and the ones that did make it to that coveted position often stuck around at the top slot for weeks. Anyone remember Bryan Adams being at number 1 for eight years with ‘(Everything I do) I do it for you’? from the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Okay, so it was 16 consecutive weeks really but it felt like eight years although I never fell out of love with that song despite it being played constantly. This was 1991 and Bryan Adams still holds the record (literally) these days for having the longest number of consecutive weeks at number 1 in the UK.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this on a blog predominantly about writing and I promise there’s a link!

Over the past month or so, the four books in my Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series have been steadily climbing up the Kindle charts and, over Easter, I blogged about how excited I was that they’d all received a best seller tag for at least one of their categories and that they’d all broken into the Top 1000 with Book 2, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, storming ahead at #352 on the morning of 10th April. You can read that blog post here.

Screenshot 2020-04-09 at 22.46.10

Breaking the Top 1000 was so exciting for me. All the books had previously been released under different titles across 2015-2016 and, after my publisher ceased trading, I re-released them as an indie author. They had never got anywhere near this type of chart position so this was an absolute dream come true. But it kept getting better. By late April, they’d all cracked the Top 500 and, a week into May, they’d all cracked the Top 400 with the trailblazer, Seaside Blooms, making it into the Top 100 at #91 on 5th May. Wow!

Screenshot 2020-05-05 at 23.14.38It didn’t end there and this is where the chart connection comes in. Once a book makes it into the Top 100 on Amazon in any chart – including category charts – then you can see all the books in that Top 100 displayed beautifully in a chart showing the covers rather than just a number at the bottom of the book details.

It’s a lovely visual representation of how your book is performing and which authors have the books out either side of yours.

Screenshot 2020-05-10 at 20.08.24New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms made it to #51 in the overall Kindle chart a couple of days later on 7th May and suddenly a new milestone of Top 50 seemed realistic. The next day, it got to #42. Was the Top 40 possible? Yes, the following day, it reached #32. But that meant another potential milestone of Top 30. Could it? Would it? The day after – Sunday 10th May, it did. And, not only that, it also reached the Top 25 on the same day. Eek!!!!!

I will admit that, by this point, chart-position-watching had become a bit of an obsession. I think all ‘firsts’ are for writers. I remember staying up until midnight on the day of my first release to watch it arrive on my Kindle. I don’t do that now.

The charts are meant to get refreshed hourly but my experience is they don’t seem to – more like bi-hourly or even every three hours. I couldn’t sleep at night, waking up every couple of hours, wondering if I’d have made it even higher. I am still shattered from several days of doing this. I have, thankfully, got it out of my system now. I wasn’t setting an alarm or anything like that – I’m not that desperate – but it was like my body clock would go, “Right, you, a couple of hours have passed so it’s time to get up and check the charts”. So up I got and padded into my office across the landing to see where I was.

In the very early hours of the Monday morning, I hit #20. Top 20!!! Yay!!!!

But, of course, I wanted more. That’s the problem with achieving a goal; you instantly make a new one! Could I actually get inside the Top 20 into the teens?

It didn’t look like it. On Monday 11th May, Seaside Blooms began to drop to the mid-twenties. Boo. But 20 was absolutely amazing and when it first dipped inside the Top 1000, I’d never have dreamed of reaching that sort of number.

Like the UK singles chart where records go up and down, Seaside Blooms did the same. A good friend of mine tagged me on Facebook on Wednesday 13th May with a screenshot to show #19. I’d done it! I’d made it inside the Top 20 and figured that surely it would end there, especially when it began dropping again.

Up and down, up and down, it gradually moved towards the Top 10 with the highest position to date – #14 – being secured on Sunday 17th May. At some point over the past few weeks, it has held every single position from 14 to 30!

My mum and husband were convinced I’d make it into the Top 10 still but, with a few days having now passed since hitting #14, I think Seaside Blooms has definitely peaked. Although I thought that at #20 and, a few days later, it hit #19 so you never know.

Meanwhile the other three books are all doing me proud:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (Book 1 in the series) is currently at a personal best of #157. Top 150 next?
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (Book 3) has a PB of #182 from Monday but has mainly hovered around #200 since then. I’m hoping it will follow Book 1 and 2 nearer the top of the charts as readers steadily work through the series
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (Book 4) achieved a PB of #214 earlier today so I’m hoping it will break the Top 200 soon. It would be so amazing to have the entire series in the Top 200 together. Even better if they were in the Top 100 together! I achieved that on AppleBooks UK back in March with all of them being in the Top 75 at the same time which was another really thrilling moment.

I am absolutely delighted and so very grateful to my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, for giving me this opportunity and to all the readers who have helped the series rise. I will admit, though, that it doesn’t feel real. When I was at #14, it didn’t feel possible that only 13 books in the UK out of the millions of eBooks on Amazon were higher in the charts than mine. As I’m typing this, it feels like something that must be happening to someone else; not to me.

Without wishing to sound pessimistic, I don’t think this is something that will happen to me again unless one of my books is on something like a BookBub promotion. I think a combination of factors have all come together at the same time to lead to the current positions enjoyed by Seaside Blooms:

  • Lockdown Time – people have the time to read a lot more and sales of eBooks have rocketed
  • Lockdown Comfort – readers want escapism and they want books that will uplift and hug them, which is what I write
  • Whole Series – because these are re-issues, the whole series are out at the same time, creating an appetite for binge-reading and more so during lockdown
  • Prime Deal – Seaside Blooms is currently on a Prime deal so lots of Prime members are downloading it too

Screenshot 2020-05-05 at 19.34.50

I don’t have another whole series in my back catalogue to re-issue and I hope we are never, ever in a scenario of lockdown ever, ever again so the above set of circumstances won’t happen again. Or at least I hope the lockdown scenario doesn’t happen again.

Going forwards, I will never forget the moment I broke every goal I dreamed of and those I hadn’t even dared to imagine.

I’ll never forget that unreal moment at 4am, lying back down in bed thinking, ‘I’m at number 14 in the charts!’ and having to fight the urge to wake up hubby to tell him.

I’ll never forget watching my books steadily moving up the charts, just like when I listened to my favourite songs moving up the charts on ‘visiting day’ as a child.

And I’ll never forget those who I’ve been unable to visit for many years. RIP, Granda Wiseman, Grandma and Granda Williams, Uncle Stan, Uncle George and Auntie Olive. Sending love and I hope I’ve done you proud.

Jessica xx