A little music with your reading?

In the run-up to Christmas last year, I created a Spotify playlist of books inspired by my two Christmas books, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. I enjoyed it so much, I created a Spotify playlist for all my other books!

So, if you fancy a little music to accompany your reading, here’s the links. Some of the lyrics fit perfectly, some carry the theme, some are specifically mentioned in the stories and one is even the title. Bet you can guess which one that is!

There are some very well-known tracks but there are a few from albums that I love.

You shouldn’t get any spoilers from listening to these although you will pick up on some themes if you haven’t already read the books. The tracks are presented in the order of relevance to plot points in the books and, where they link to a series, they’re in the order of the books in that series too..

Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Series: 24 songs, 1 hr 41 mins, found on Spotify here.

All You Need Is Love: 15 songs, 59 mins, found on Spotify here.

The Secret to Happiness: 20 songs, 1 hr 19 mins, found on Spotify here.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café (non-Christmas): 21 songs, 1 hr 28 mins, found on Spotify here.

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes & Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café (Christmassy): 25 songs, 1 hr 28 mins, found on Spotify here.

The Hedgehog Hollow Series (covers books 1-3): 32 songs, 2 hr 16 mins, found on Spotify here.

I’d also previously created a playlist of ‘Thirty Songs to Make You Smile’ which is full of uplifting songs for when things feel a little rough. You can find it on Spotify here.

A huge thank you to my fabulous editor, Nia, for creating these in Spotify on my behalf.

Happy listening!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

An Altogether Eggcellent Easter

Happy Easter!

How was your bank holiday weekend? I blinked and missed mine because I spent it in my editing cave but I am absolutely thrilled to report that book 13 is now written and with my editor so I can take a deep breath, relax, watch some TV and eat lots of chocolate over the next few days!

I did manage to take five minutes outside my cave to get creative with my books and some Easter-themed friends. How cute is my Forever Friends bunny? I won her on a grab machine on my hen do so she’s very special to me. Back then (September 2005), I was just studying my craft and ‘playing’ with my first novel. It was a decade before it was finished and published but I got my act together and speeded up after that. Thirteen books later…

Book 13 is currently untitled but is a return to Whitsborough Bay. The last three books I wrote were all set in Hedgehog Hollow so it has been lovely to return to the place it all started and I look forward to bringing you more detail very soon.

I did manage to escape from my editing cave for a day on Thursday. I haven’t seen my parents since October but, with with some restrictions eased, made plans to see them next week after I’d submitted my book. Then we spotted the weather forecast. Snow in April? Really? So we thought we’d better move meeting up forward! It was a bit chilly, mind. Completely missed those few days of gorgeous blue skies as you can see from the photos.

Because we couldn’t be inside, it made sense to meet somewhere outside where we could have a little wander so we met them at Thorp Perrow Arboretum near Bedale (North Yorkshire). Hubby and I went there last September near our wedding anniversary and loved it.

As we drove over, I looked at all the lovely daffodils by the roadside and mused, ‘I wonder if they’ll have some daffodils at Thorp Perrow’. Ha ha ha! Just a few! The photos don’t do justice to them, especially as it was a dull (and very cold) day, but I think we can safely confirm there were daffodils everywhere and all different varieties.

It was difficult not having hugs but hopefully we’ll hit the day very soon where we can do that. Gosh, I miss hugs! My parents are due their second vaccination any time in the next week or so and hubby and I have both had our first so that day feels like it’s in sight.

Despite the chilly weather, we did have a lovely wander. There was a fabulous Easter Egg Trail running for children so I grabbed a few pics of that.

And Thorp Perrow is such an interesting place to wander round anyway with woodland trails, fascinating trees and lots of wood carvings.

I’m now going to be completely disorientated because I feel like my weekend starts tomorrow but it will be a Tuesday. Isn’t it a strange sensation when you feel convinced it’s a different day of the week?

Wishing you a fabulous week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Reflections on February

It’s a new month so I thought I’d have a look back over February. I confess that I’ve also just signed up to a free trial of Canva Pro so it’s a good excuse to create a few more graphics!

I’ve read some great books this month and have managed to read more than I usually do as I’ve been making a concerted effort to try to read a bit each night before bed. They’re all 5-star reads for me and you can click onto my Goodreads review if you want to know more:

Dreaming Under an Island Skye by Lisa Hobman – Goodreads review here
The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas – Goodreads review here
The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse by Katie Ginger (available for pre-order) – Goodreads review here
The Juggle by Emma Murray – Goodreads review here

I’ve also read a fabulous novella called The Other Half by my good friend Sharon Booth. This was available exclusively to newsletter subscribers and introduced us to the families who will be the focus of a new series she’s bringing out later this year. You can find out more about subscribing and getting your free copy of the novella here.

I’ve just started Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage by Samantha Tonge and I’m only three chapters in but I’m gripped by it already so very excited to see where that goes.

I don’t watch a huge amount of TV but hubby and I do try to get a film night in occasionally. At the start of this month we watched The Help which I’ve been meaning to watch for years. By sheer coincidence, it was the third film in a row we’d seen featuring people of colour during the last century (the others being Hidden Figures and Green Book – both brilliant) and the segregation broke my heart.

On my parents’ recommendation, we watched a Netflix film called The Fundamentals of Caring. Knowing Paul Rudd was in it, I was sold on it already but it’s a fabulous film and highly recommended. Funny, poignant and just lovely.

We also watched The Dig on Netflix which we both loved. It was slow and gentle yet somehow completely mesmerising.

Last weekend we watched To Olivia which is a Sky Original about Roald Dahl’s family. Jim Broadbent and Keeley Hawes were amazing as the main characters and it was a really good film but I think I went into it with expectations that it would feel a bit like the brilliant Miss Potter with elements of magic among the darker moments. There were a few but not quite enough for me personally to make it feel like an uplifting film. As I say, I thought it was really good but it was very sad.

That’s a lot of films so I think I might have dipped into January there!

On TV, we’ve started watching Bloodlands which is a BBC1 drama starring James Nesbitt. The first part was brilliant. The second part last night was a little confusing and hubby isn’t so sure but I’m really enjoying the twists and turns of it.

I adore Dancing on Ice and have watched every single series since it started but, my goodness, has this series been plagued with injury and illness. They’ve had to skip a week as they lost so many celebrities early on but have still lost another since then. The poor producers must be tearing their hair out as they probably expected some Covid challenges but not so many injuries. It’s good but I think all the drop-outs have massively impacted on the contestants as I think some have left who might not have done otherwise.

And, finally, the addition of Star to Disney Plus means that I have been able to introduce the munchkin to the brilliant Castle. This US series stars the gorgeous Nathan Fillion as a crime author who shadows detective Kate Beckett who provides the inspiration for the lead character in his new series of books. It’s clever and funny but I had previously only watched a couple of seasons. We thought the munchkin (now 14) might like it and it may stop her binge-watching Pretty Little Liars for the third time. She loves it but isn’t impressed that she can’t binge it and needs to wait for me to have time to watch. We’re going to be working our way through that over the next few months. If you’ve never tried Castle, I highly recommend it.

I’m working on a brand new Christmas novel which will be out on 31st August. It’s a story I originally started writing four years ago to be my first ever Christmas novella but I realised that it was a longer story than that so I parked it. I thought it would be easy returning to something with 10k words already written. It wasn’t. I’ve actually found it my hardest book to write so far. Eek!

Last week I had a catch-up phone call with my editor and we discussed why I was struggling. Part of it is that what I’d written is four years old. My writing has developed since then and I don’t remember where some of the ideas I’d planted were going. But the biggest challenge is that, because it’s several years old, I have been thinking about this book for a long time and have therefore developed so much of the plot in my head. And that goes against my natural style. I am a pantser. I know my main characters really well, I know the premise of the story and I know how it’s going to end but I let the story unfold as I go. I really love seeing where the characters take me but, with this book, I haven’t had quite the same freedom and I’ve found it stifling.

Having said that, now that I’ve worked out why I was struggling, I’m finding it easier and am now up to 45k words. I have five weeks to double that and knock it into shape but I’m really good with deadlines (she says writing a blog post instead of getting on with it) so I’m confident it’ll all come together at the eleventh hour.

It’s been an exciting month with a few amazing achievements for my books:

  • It was a book birthday for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove which were both released on 20th February last year and continue to do me proud with sales and reviews
  • Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow was accepted for Prime Reading and, just yesterday, got to its highest ever UK Kindle chart position of #31. I’d seen it previously at #34 and have a screenshot of that but it was lovely to see on Author Central (a tracker that shows authors their historic chart positions) that it rose a little higher. It also hit #8 in the Prime Reading chart
  • New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow was on a BookBub promotion which peaked at #77 in the UK Kindle chart making it my fifth book to crack the UK Top 100. Woo hoo!
  • Finding Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow entered the Top 400 at #383 and it’s not even out until 4th May so this is based on pre-orders alone. Woo hoo! It was also trending on Kobo as one of the most popular pre-orders. That’s some pretty big names the hedgehogs are partying beside! And it has already eclipsed my own personal record for pre-orders set by New Arrivals with two months still to go. Thank you so much to everyone who has pre-ordered it. I’m so very grateful

I’ve been out and about this month more than I have been for the past few months…

I had my first dental check-up in eighteen months which was a combined appointment with the munchkin. I’ve been suffering from vertigo since mid-January and, although it’s really mild, I didn’t want to risk driving so hubby drove us. Our dental practice is right by Sainsbury’s so hubby did the weekly shop while we had our appointment. When he returned to the car, it had a flat battery and Green Flag would be at least two hours so we needed to get a local garage out to jumpstart us then fit a new battery. Glad hubby was with me as I’m more than capable of sorting that out but prefer to leave car-related stuff to him.

I also left the house to get my first Covid vaccination. I’m not in the age group but I have underlying health conditions. I was so impressed with the efficiency of the set-up of the whole thing. I’m relieved to have had my first jab but will feel more relaxed when hubby’s had his. I’ve heard about the side effects some friends have had and count myself very fortunate that mine were very limited. About an hour or so afterwards, I felt very fluey for about half an hour – sweats, shivers, headachy – but it soon went. My arm ached and felt heavy and I struggled to sleep that night but it was fine by the end of the next day.

I’ve also been out for a couple of walks to stop me being welded to the office chair. We’re lucky that we have the coast right on our doorstep but what used to be a quiet coastal walk where you’d only see the occasional dog-walker has become a phenomenally popular walk and extremely people-y. And many of those people seem to struggle with the concept of social distancing despite having a road rather than a path to walk along (the road was blocked off for vehicles years ago). Being in a higher-risk group (but not one high enough to self-isolate), it puts me on edge which is why I barely leave the house.

As the Government guidelines permit travel within the local area and of a short distance to find an open space, we went to the south part of South Bay in Scarborough yesterday (usually not too people-y as there aren’t many amenities at that end) and to a forest just outside Scarborough the Sunday before. There was quite a difference in temperature between the two weekends, as you can see by me being bundled up in my hat and scarf in the forest!

Wishing you a fabulous start to March and another step closer to being able to meet with friends and family again. Right, really must get some more of this novel written…

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day feels a little strange this year because I’m used to being out and about and seeing the build-up in all the shops: pink, white and red flowers and hearts everywhere, flowers, chocolates and soft toys. But, like so many, I don’t leave the house these days and, even if I did, so many of the retailers are closed so the big build-up wouldn’t have been there. Just one of the many things about the past year that has been different.

Hubby and I don’t buy each other gifts and I’m not sure we’ve ever gone out for a Valentine’s Day meal but we always exchange cards … and he does often get me a little treat.

This year, hubby had to buy his own card from me from the local supermarket. I don’t know if he was planning to get me a gift but I emailed him a link of something I’d really like hee hee! The link was for a gorgeous soft Jellycat notepad. I’ve become a bit obsessed with Jellycat recently. My original publisher bought me a soft bear when my first book was published and I treated myself to a panda a couple of years ago but I’ve discovered they do a hedgehog and ocean creatures range and they look so good in promo pictures of my books that I have made a few purchases. It’s all strictly business, of course 😉


Anyway, back to the Valentine’s gift, hubby ordered me my Jellycat notepad but he also surprised me with the cutest, softest pair of otters cuddling. They’re actually hotties but I don’t think I could bring myself to put them in the microwave. I’d imagine them screaming!

I was really flattered a few weeks back to be asked by my contact at our local newspaper if I’d write an article entitled ‘Why I Love Valentine’s Day’. She figured that, as a romance author, I’d be well placed to put something together. Even better, it would be offered out to all the newspapers in the group – over 170 local newspapers. Wow!

Disappointingly and ironically my local newspaper didn’t print it. And neither did the other three most local ones to me. Eek! My contact said most of the papers in the group did take it which is fantastic news but I’ll need to be content with the pdf. If anyone spots it, please comment as I’d love to have a copy for my scrapbook. The media group is JPI Media (with coverage UK-wide) and the article could have appeared across the weekend or last week in a section branded with the ‘Your Time’ logo you can see top left below.

The big focus of the article is about love and friendship today whatever your relationship status. Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about being all loved up in a happy relationship; it can be about love for others, pets, yourself. Or books! I’m suffering with vertigo at the moment. It’s the first time I’ve had it but it’s been bugging me for a month now so I’m trying to relax this weekend and I’ll be spending this afternoon watching a romcom with my 14-year-old daughter while hubby watches the football. I also plan to finish the book I’m currently reading. Lovely way to spend Valentine’s Day. If a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows materialises at some point, I’ll be a very happy bear.

And I also got a very special Valentine’s Day gift from my lovely readers. A little over a week ago, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow went into Prime Reading and had a lovely boost up the charts but it didn’t look like it was going to break the Top 100. Yesterday it did and this morning it hit its highest position at #86 in the overall Kindle chart which is so exciting. It hit the same number back in August, about six weeks after release, so I’m hoping the hedgehogs might climb even higher. Go hedgehogs go! The first two books in the series – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – are both only 99p for ebook at the moment on Kindle, Apple and Kobo.

However you’re spending it, whether with loved ones or apart, I’m wishing you a restful Valentine’s Day full of love and friendship. Could you find it in the pages of a book? Could the love of your life be a fictional character? Here’s a couple of my fictional leading men to tempt you…

Big hugs
Jessica xx

My Crazy Week of Job Loss & Book Launch

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Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESOh my goodness, what a roller coaster of a week I’ve had full of highs and lows, twists and turns!

Morning of Monday 1st June – LOW – I work flexible hours in the day job and normally take a Monday off, working the rest of my full time hours across longer days for the rest of the week. As I had Wed-Fri booked off as holiday to enjoy my book launch, my manager suggested I came in on Monday instead and took my flex day on the Tuesday, giving me four days off on the trot. I’d been out the previous week running a training workshop and she’d been on holiday so I was expecting our 10am meeting to be a catch-up and handover while I had the rest of the week off. Instead, I got made redundant! I completely and utterly had not seen that one coming! Last year, there’d been a bit of a cost savings and restructuring exercise and we’d been assured that HR weren’t being looked at and there’d been no redundancies. Hmm. I got really upset in the meeting because of the shock of it. Thankfully I was allowed to go home to come to terms with the news.

P1060369Afternoon of Monday 1st June – HIGH – Hubby picked me up from work and took me into town to collect a parcel we’d missed. I expected this to be my box of books which seemed very ‘one door closes and another opens’ but it wasn’t books. It was something equally fabulous, though – my very own Steven Bear from lovely writing friends Jo, Sharon and Alys. I love him.

Evening of Monday 1st June – HIGH – I’m a Brown Owl and, to celebrate the launch, we’d decided to complete our Booklover and Writer badges as a pack this term. I’d pulled together a short PowerPoint presentation for the Brownies followed by a creative writing workshop. I wasn’t sure how well this would work but it went down a storm with lots of questions and the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday 2nd June – LOW – Reality hit that I was out of work yet again and I felt so hurt at the timing. It was meant to be the week of my life and my employer had started it by making me redundant. I’d wanted to spend the Tuesday feeling all excited as it was, after all, book launch eve. Instead, I was job hunting.

CoversWednesday 3rd June – HIGH – Searching for Steven was launched (buy it here)! What an incredibly exciting day. I seemed to spend it solidly on social media, thanking people for supporting me, and grinning from ear to ear. I had a well attended Facebook launch party on the evening and I went to bed very, very happy

Thursday 4th June – HIGH – The high continued with more excitement around Steven but also around my novella. To celebrate Steven‘s launch, Raving About Rhys (buy it here) went on a three-day free promotion and was climbing the charts as well as gathering some amazing reviews. By the end of the promotion, I’d got to number 203 in the free Kindle chart on Amazon and number 26 in the romantic comedy chart. I was thrilled about it.

P1060374Another fabulous thing that happened that day was that hubby disappeared out and then returned with a set of three canvasses for me – the cover of each book, and a dedication canvas including a quote he’d recently seen in a film: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” by Mark Twain. It feels so apt for me and my writing. It made me cry!

Friday 5th June – LOW – I received the devastating news that our printers had let us down. Despite expecting a box of books earlier in the week, it turns out they’d had problems with their binding equipment and hadn’t even printed my books. I was having a launch party the next day with nearly 100 guests, many of whom would have travelled long distances, and they weren’t going to get a copy of my book. I have to say, I was absolutely distraught. At one point, I even wanted to cancel the party, but my lovely hubby gave me lots of hugs and encouragement. I posted a private message on Facebook to  friends and family explaining what had happened and the outpouring of support and understanding was really quite overwhelming. I was genuinely touched at how proud people were of me and how excited they were to be coming to the book launch, with or without the inclusion of books!

11401385_10206847816496801_2560504648333263427_nSaturday 6th June – HIGH – Launch party day had arrived and what an amazing day it was. My publisher had managed to send me their two sample books by special delivery. These had a page missing and a few errors but it was a thrilling moment opening the box and putting my paws on a copy of my paperback for the first time. I’d have captured it on film but I was still in my PJs with no make-up on so that wouldn’t have been a good look!

The party was fabulous. The only downside is that I needed it to go on about ten times as long as I tried my best but it was impossible to get round everyone. I had family, old friends, new friends, former work colleagues, writing friends and it was so lovely to have everyone together to celebrate this unique occasion.

I have so many people to thank for making the day so special: hubby and munchkin, my sister-in-law Vanessa for the amazing cupcakes and cake (which I completely forgot to cut and hand out!), my mum for the scones, biscuits and caramel shortbread (nom nom), The Scarborough Anglers Social Club for such a friendly/flexible venue, Jon Mancrief for a delicious buffet, and everyone for coming. I got cards, flowers and gifts which was very unexpected. And people paid for books too! I really appreciate all your support and your positive comments. You’ve helped make a horrendous start to the week with a few dips along the way, end on a high xxx

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Beginnings and Endings

I work full-time so writing is something I need to fit around my day job which is a smidge on the challenging side. I’ve said before that my main sacrifice to allow time to write is that I watch very little television. I spend my evenings at my Mac, catching up on social media and editing my latest novel rather than catching up with the residents of Coronation Street or Albert Square.

As we’ve had a long bank holiday weekend and I managed to tag another couple of days holiday on before that, I have given myself some evening time off writing and have watched films with hubby on three consecutive nights.

Friday night was his choice: Interstellar. This 2014 release stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hatthaway, and is set on a futuristic dying earth. The protagonists are on a space mission to find an alternative inhabitable planet. I’ll hold my hands up and say my first preference is always for a romcom, but I’m not averse to a bit of drama (my all-time favourite film is actually ‘The Shawshank Redemption’) and I don’t mind the odd sci-fi either so I was reasonably pleased with hubby’s choice. Until I watched it. But more on that shortly.

Saturday’s film was my choice. When discussing what else had been on offer when hubby bought Interstellar, I’d asked him if he’d spotted 2014 release ‘Gone Girl’. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, I’d seen this trailered last year when I went on a rare trip to the cinema and (as trailers frequently make out) it looked really good. I quite like a good thriller. This wasn’t a good thriller. But more on that shortly too.

Last night, we stuck with one of the the TV offerings: Snow White and the Huntsman. This 2012 movie starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, is a dark re-imagining of the Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs story. We really enjoyed this one. And that’s not just because of Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, although that certainly helped my enjoyment! 😉

As a writer, I’ve massively struggled with getting the start of my novels right, particularly my debut one, ‘Searching for Steven’ (out on 3rd June this year). Does the story hook the reader in quickly? Do they get to know the protagonist and care about her? Is there enough action soon enough, or perhaps too much and I haven’t paused to explain what’s going on? As a reader, I don’t like to give up on books as I know that some of the slower-starting books can do an about-turn and suddenly become really gripping, but it’s hard to keep going to that point sometimes, especially when I don’t know if it’s ever going to appear!

The other thing that I feel is really important as a reader is the ending. This might seem obvious, but I find far too many books have a rushed ending and I feel cheated. Assuming we’re talking a romance story, I’ve spent the book willing the hero and heroine to get together. If it happens on the very last page, I feel a twinge of frustration. I’ve spent 299 pages caring about them. I don’t suddenly want it wrapping up on page 300. I like to have a chapter – or at least a few pages – leading up to it so that the conclusion doesn’t feel rushed, as though the writer had run out of space or got bored and thought they’d better finally shove them together. Because I knew what I liked (and didn’t like) in an ending, I didn’t struggle with the endings to any of my novels.

But what happens when there isn’t actually an ending?

Okay, so that might be an odd thing to say as surely the very fact that a book finishes must mean there’s an ending. Not necessarily. And, for this, I go back to our trio of films over this weekend.

If you’re planning to watch any of them, you might like to avoid reading on… *SPOILER ALERT*

Interstellar and Gone Girl, in my opinion, had several things in common:

1. They were overly and unnecessarily long

2. They had very long drawn-out beginnings. In book terms, these would have been the stories that I’d have toyed with abandoning because they were taking forever to get into

3. They didn’t have endings

To be fair to Interstellar, there were some moments in the middle that were very gripping. For example, they landed in the sea on a planet that they believed (from data they’d received via a previous explorer) to be habitable. They knew that there was an issue with time on the planet (which I won’t even begin to try and explain because I can’t get my head round it) and that an hour down there would be the equivalent to several years in ‘normal’ time. Once landed, they could see mountains in the distance, only these turned out not to be mountains but giant waves that rippled across the planet at regular intervals, destroying anything in their wake. There was a dramatic escape attempt, a death, and the even more shocking discovery that 23 years and 4 months had passed in the short time they’d been down there. Gripping stuff (not being sarcastic here). Then the film went a bit strange when Matthew McC fell through a wormhole and could see his daughter’s bedroom and send her messages by pushing books off shelves. Yep, I won’t try to explain that either. Somehow he got rescued out of this wormhole and ended up on another planet to which the population of earth had temporarily moved (I think). He was still in his thirties but his daughter was exceedingly old and about to die and suggested he go and find Anne Hathaway on the planet she’d travelled to before he disappeared down the wormhole. It showed him taking a spacecraft. It showed her on the planet on her own. And then it ended. Hubby and I both shouted at the TV screen. What sort of non-ending was that?! What happened to them? What happened to the former population of earth? Had they saved the human race from distinction?

Gone Girl, although a completely different genre of film, had an equally surprising non-ending. I haven’t read the book so I base this purely on the film (and, again, emphasise it is only my opinion as I’m sure many love it), but it appears to be the story of two quite self-centred people who have a very lively sex life who grow to dislike each other. She goes missing and the clues point to him having murdered her. Then we discover that she’s alive and has set it up because she hates him for changing and for having an affair. All her money gets stolen so she contacts an ex-boyfriend who was a bit obsessed with her at college. He sets her up in his holiday home but she turns psycho on him after seeing her husband on a chat show acting like the man she fell in love with. She then murders the ex and, covered in his blood, drives back to Ben Affleck’s house and claims she was abducted by the ex. Keeping up so far? Ben knows she’s a psycho who murdered the ex yet doesn’t say anything because she’s managed to get hold of a sperm donation he made at a fertility clinic and is now pregnant with his child. Let me just repeat that. Wife frames husband for murdering her, loses her money, murders her ex, returns to ex, gets pregnant using his sperm donation, and he stays with her despite her having admitted she murdered the ex. Then it ends. Eh? I don’t understand? How is that an ending? It doesn’t conclude anything. Nobody is happy. Nobody gets their come-uppance. The murder of the poor ex isn’t solved.

I’m very aware that there are films out there that leave you with questions, but at least they do have an ending. I’m trying to think of examples and I can only come up with ‘Total Recall’ at the time of writing, but I’m sure I’ll think of others after I’ve posted this! I don’t think that Interstellar or Gone Girl were meant to be this type of film. Or maybe I’ve just missed the point.

Which brings us onto the third film. Although it wouldn’t feature up there with my most favourite films ever, Snow White and the Huntsman got going quickly, kept a pace throughout, and it had an ending. A proper ending. An ending where the Queen got her come-uppance (but not without a big battle first), Snow White got crowned as the rightful Queen, and there was a smouldering look from Thor … sorry, the Huntsman, suggesting they had a future too. It was concluded with the hint of the HEA too. Exactly how it should be.

It could be just me, though. I’m sure some people like the slow-build and the inconclusive conclusion (is that a contradiction in terms?), but I really, really don’t.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions on any of these films, particularly around the subject of beginnings and (non-)endings.

Happy Easter everyone 🙂 xx

Something special to mark the occasion & new beginnings

P1050691Last week, I brought you the exciting news about two book deals in my post “A Tale of Two Contracts” Acts I and II. It’s been lovely receiving so many positive comments from excited friends, family, and fellow-Write Romantics. Some of them have even generously bought me gifts so I wanted to share a couple and thank the senders.

P1050673The first gift arrived in the post from my lovely writing friend and fellow-founder of The Write Romantics, Jay Bartlett. Meet Smithy, my gorgeously soft brown teddy (names as such because he’s exclusively made for WH Smith which feels like a very appropriate supplier for a writer who aspires to have their book on the shelves of WH Smith one day). He’s wearing a white t-shirt bearing the message “You got ‘the call’ Julie” (Julie being my real name rather than my pen name). Jay has been an invaluable source of support. She’s read Steven on two, possibly three occasions and provided feedback and support. She’s also been the voice of reason and encouragement through the inevitable moments of self-doubt every writer has. Thank you Jay xxx

P1050694I have a wonderful colleague at work called Joanna who makes me laugh so much. When I got my first publishing offer which was for eBook only, she was a bit gutted because she wanted to read the book so badly but didn’t have an eReader and wondered how she could acquire one without letting on to her dad who’s very anti-eReaders. When I got – and accepted – the second deal and she knew there was a paperback coming, she said “I’ll pay full price. I won’t even wait till it’s 3 for 2 in Asda!” Hee hee. Bless her. Anyway, Joanna bought me this fabulous pen with the engraving “Julie – Published Writer” especially for my first signings! How lovely is that? Thank you to you, Joanna, for always believing in me 🙂 xx

P1050692Fellow Write Romantic Alys met me for tea in York last week and she presented me with a gorjuss coaster. No, that’s not a typo – gorjuss is the make of these absolutely gorgeous characters. I love them. This one says “we can all shine” which feels such a positive message for someone whose dreams have come true. I have a couple already. I have one by my bedside of a girl standing on a pile of books and I have another on my desk that says “I found my family in a book”. I actually use two coasters on my desk; one for my water and one for my tea and now I can replace the Pooh-bear one with my new gorguss one. Alys, like the rest of the WRs, has been really encouraging and supportive throughout and also read Steven for me which was really lovely of her when it’s not her preferred genre of books. Thanks Alys. By the way, Alys also gave me a heart-shaped purple-foil-wrapped chocolate lolly. But I troughed it before I thought to take a photo. Oops!

P1050687I bought myself a little gift, too. I have a friend who makes beautiful hand-crafted signs and I’d previously asked her to make me one for my office with both my names on it. I asked her to produce a matching one with a wonderful quote introduced to me by Write Romantic Helen Phifer which I find incredibly apt.

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My final gift was my fabulous purchase at the weekend courtesy of my husband. I collect teddy bears. I love soft, plush bears and have many but I collect proper jointed teddy bears made by companies like Steiff, Hermann Teddy Original, Dean’s and Merrythought but I also love artist bears which are hand-crafted by people who simply love teddy bears. I told Mark that I’d love to have a collector bear to commemorate by book deal so he took me round the three bear shops in York at the weekend to look. It wasn’t looking good at first. I wanted the bear to have some connection to my writing although I didn’t know quite how I’d manage that. I hoped it would just “speak” to me. In the first two shops, I came across the same limited edition bear (15000 pieces I think it was) called “Jessica”. Perfect name but I wasn’t sure I loved her. She wore some pink pearls and I think it was them that were putting me off. She’d have been better without them. I resolved that I’d go to the third shop and if none of the bears grabbed me, I’d come back and have a good, long look at Jessica again to see if she was right. It wasn’t looking good in the third shop either. I saw a gorgeous artist bear that didn’t really have any relevance but I loved him. He was very expensive, though; four times what I’d planned to pay so there was just no way. Then, as we were leaving, I decided to study a glass cabinet with smaller bears in it and that’s when I spotted Kasimir. He’s an Astridbear; an artist from Germany and I have two fabulous Astridbears already. The word “love” on his dungarees just spoke to me. As a romance writer, I’d found my meaningful bear and he’s settled into life in the bear cabinet very well.

P1050693Thank you everyone for your cards (mum & dad, Joanna and Norma), gifts, and well wishes. I actually signed my contract on Monday so it is 100% official that I’m a So Vain Books author. I’ve come to terms with referring to myself as a “writer” for a long time (as opposed to an “aspiring writer”) but I think it will take me a long time to get used to referring to myself as an “author”!

I’ve managed to negotiate a flexible working contract at work. I’ve been toying with putting in a request since the law changed in the summer allowing anyone to request the right to flexible work (although the company doesn’t have to accept). I liked the idea of working my normal hours across four longer days and having a day off to write but I never got round to submitting it. The book deal was the push I needed and I was eternally grateful to have my request accepted immediately. It’s a trial until the end of the year to make sure it meets the needs of the business but I can’t see it being a problem. I had my first Monday off this week and it was amazing to sit at my desk and feel like an author, working for a solid day on writing-related activities.

Something else lovely happened this week at work which made me feel like a real author too. I got a phone call from our HR Manager on a completely non-work-related issue. She said that she was delighted to hear the news of my writing deal and said that she was part of a reading group and that they all take turns in choosing books. She said that, when my book was published, she’d like to choose mine to read and would I mind going along and talking to the group? Wow! How flattered was I? Naturally I said yes. It feels like things are really starting to happen.

I’d better sign off or this could go on forever! Thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey so far and to all of those who’ll join us along the way.

Jessica xx

 

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act 1

P1050690Have you ever got something you really, really wanted? Something you’ve longed for years and years? How did it feel?

On my wish list for the past eleven years or so has been “to become a published writer”. My husband and I have often joked about this making us millions and us moving to a huge grand “author’s house” in the countryside but that’s not why I wanted to become a published writer. Don’t get me wrong, it would be very lovely thank you, but the real reason is the one I’d expect many other writers to cite: I have stories to tell and I want people to read them.

On September 1st, I took a step closer to my dream. I awoke on a dark Monday morning and checked my phone like I always do. Typically this results in cleansing my inbox of Groupon deals, Nectar points info and some freegle messages. But September 1st was not a typical Monday. Because sitting there in my inbox was an email from a US-based publishing house. And they wanted to publish my book.

I’d dreamed of this moment for a long time but this wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d imagined “the call” being exactly that; a phone call coming through on a dreary day and lighting my life. I hadn’t really imagined an email and especially not one with a “but” in it. You see, they wanted my book but they felt it was a bit long (it was 100k words) and wanted to know if I’d be prepared to cut it. I wandered round in a bit of a daze as I got ready for work. I didn’t feel excitement; I just felt a bit numb. Was it because I couldn’t believe I’d finally got the call? Was it because the call was an email? Or was it because there was a “but”? I’m not really sure.

P1050689I emailed them back saying of course I’d consider a reduction in words but how much and what sort of guidance would they give? Plus, would they be interested in the other two books in the series? The wordcount cut concerned me as I’d already cut my novel by 32k words and felt that it couldn’t lose much more without starting to lose the story. Cue anxious several hours (damn time delay!) before a reply came back saying that my editor loved series and would be delighted to offer me a 3-book deal and not to worry too much about the word cut as she loved it all so much that she was struggling to see where to cut words. Phew! Finally, excitement set in. Telling my immediate family was thrilling; especially telling my parents because my mum was beside herself. It was lovely to hear how proud they were of me for working so hard at my dream and never giving up. I also made an announcement on Facebook. I was away in a hotel with work and it was a joy to sit back and watch the likes and the congratulations messages flowing in.

A template contract was sent to me, I sought some advice on it, and several emails were exchanged about the content and size of books 2 and 3.

Then Black Friday hit.

I picked up an email from my editor to double check that all the books were about 100k and to tell me she wanted them to be 80k instead. A 20k reduction? One fifth? Twenty per cent? Look at it whichever way you like, that was a hefty reduction and I’d thought the word count didn’t matter. Especially as the offer was for eBook only where surely the size doesn’t matter quite as it does with paperbacks (and the costs incurred).

It got worse.

P1050686There are two threads in my stories; romance (obviously, given that romance is my genre) but there’s a secondary theme of friendship and it’s really important to me that the stories I tell contain both. My editor wanted to check there definitely was a romance in book 3 as it hadn’t come out strongly in my summary and she also said that the friendship had to be a background story with the focus being on the romance. I panicked. Big time. You see, before I’d had the offer, I’d made the decision to go indie. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t bear the waiting times to hear news from some publishers and part of it was so that I could get the control; tell the stories I wanted to tell, with the covers I wanted on my books, the pricing and timescales I wanted and so on. I knew I’d not be able to resist a publishing deal if one knocked on my door as a foot on the ladder to getting my name known but I also wanted to be sure the deal was right. And there were some alarm bells ringing that this one may not be quite right after all.

I emailed back and expressed my surprise at the significant wordcount reduction. I also outlined where the romance came into book 3 and asked it if it was ok. An email came back the next evening saying the romance was fine and not to worry about the wordcount. Again. But we’d been there before. My contract would be with me by Friday 19th September.

But on Wednesday 17th September, another email arrived. It would seem that publishing deals are like buses because this email contained another offer from a completely different publisher. This was a publisher who could offer me a deal for a print version of my book as well as an eBook but who presented a risk because they were new.

So what did I do? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know!

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx

Pick my product! Pick my product! Buy me! Buy me! Now!

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, every so often, a headline appears on Yahoo!’s home page that intrigues me and that, instead of doing what I’m meant to be doing (writing!), I click through to it. Come on, you know you do it … that’s why advertisers pay a fortune to appear on these links. Sometimes I’m glad I did as I read something genuinely funny or interesting but, more often than not, it’s a waste of my time.

About a week ago I was particularly intrigued by was this one:

http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/secret-life-of-walter-mitty-wins-worst-product-placement-award-123218430.html

I studied marketing at university and, although I’ve never followed a career in marketing (I went down the HR route instead), I’ve always been fascinated by adverts and product placement. I confess I have neither read nor seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but I’m now curious to do so simply because of the apparent randomness of product placement. Over the years, this is something I’ve noticed become more and more blatant in films and TV programmes and it’s quite often laughable. I imagine Coca Cola and PepsiCo have quite brutal fights over the right to have the stars drink their brand of pop when, truth be told, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to me as I’d pick the one that I like the taste of best (Diet Pepsi in case you’re curious). However, it clearly makes a difference to those who are perhaps slightly more influenced by these things. Or they wouldn’t bother.

A couple of favourite examples of product placement are two films that blatantly satire it: Wayne’s World and The Truman Show. Two very different films but love them both … and their approach to advertising!

So what does this have to do with writing? Quite a lot actually. It’s only a matter of time before the massive reach of books is exploited by advertisers. There are examples out there already but nothing on as grand a scale as TV and films but how long will this last? 

In my debut novel, Searching for Steven, my protagonist has two cats. Good friends of mine had two cats who they’d named Caffrey and Guinness. As our student days weren’t long behind us and we were very fond of Irish ales, this seemed a great pair of names. Inspired by this idea, I named Sarah’s cats Cadbury and Buttons. I love chocolate so why not? But then I started work as a Recruitment Manager for Nestle and it seemed very wrong to be promoting the competition so I changed the names to Kit and Kat which I thought was genius on another level (small things amuse me!) I also thought it would be a great little story when (if) I got my publishing deal and I could maybe try and wangle some sponsorship out of my employer in the meantime. It wasn’t to be. I never got the book finished while still working for them! When I left Nestle four-and-a-half years later, I decided to change the names again. But I couldn’t do it. I’d lived with Kit and Kat for so long and the poor little things didn’t deserve another identity crisis.

Last weekend, I went away to a lovely lodge overlooking a lake and asked my husband to take some photos of me writing on the balcony to use on this blog. His twin sisters were with us and they decided that the pictures should include a little bit of product placement. Except it wasn’t a little bit. They dragged every branded item they could find out of the cupboards. What do you think?

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Hmmm. Even The Truman Show would be proud of that one!!!

Personally I prefer the slightly more under-stated Apple product placement …

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Plus it’s a far more flattering shot of me. Not that I’m vain. But that first one is pretty grim and a reminder that I really need to get the diet back under control. I will just point out that I didn’t then go on to trough the Flake, Walker’s Crisps, box of Thorntons etc. Well, not all in one go anyway!

Over to you. What do you think of product placement in books? Have you come across it in any books you’ve read? Have you done it in yours? Would love to hear more